By Damion Bevacqua, Esq
There is an NBC News article getting quite a bit of attention today. The attention is probably due to the headline – GUNS KILL TWICE AS MANY KIDS AS CANCER DOES, NEW STUDY SHOWS – for an article published on the NBC News website, under their “Health News” section. The subhead wasn’t much better – “’The United States is clearly not effectively protecting its children’, the journal’s editor writes.”
The NBC News article was based on a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and although it contains a number of troubling statistics, my brother noticed one that was really surprising…
The U.S. simply has more guns around than other countries do, the researchers noted. “One in three U.S. homes with youth under 18 years of age has a firearm, with 43 percent of homes reporting that the firearm is kept unlocked and loaded, which increases the risk of firearm injuries,” they wrote. (emphasis added)
I’m hardly a firearms storage expert, but nearly half of all gun owners keep a loaded gun lying around the house? That seemed…inaccurate. However, what really caught my attention was that NBC was using a direct quote from the NEJM article.
You may already be familiar with the sensationalism of scholarly articles – journalists have long had a habit of taking some minor data point and turning it into the latest nightmare that is coming to kill your children. There may even be a trend towards scholarly journals showing a bias towards sensational, attention-grabbing articles and studies. John Oliver did a pretty good takedown of this phenomenon a few years ago.
The NBC article seemed as though it might fall into the second category. NBC used a direct quote from the article as well as quotes from the editor of the NEJM. So, I signed up for the New England Journal of Medicine and took a look at the actual article.
First, I found that NBC News did correctly quote the NEJM article. Here’s the full quote from the NEJM:
One in three U.S. homes with youth under 18 years of age has a firearm, with 43% of homes reporting that the firearm is kept unlocked and loaded, which increases the risk of firearm injuries.29
Again, that seems like a pretty crazy statistic, but what’s nice about the NEJM article is that it is fully cited. The NEJM authors weren’t doing any research on firearm storage practices, so their reference to firearm storage came from a study published in the American Journal of Public Health back in 2000. That study is freely available online, so I went ahead and took a look at that study as well.
Among homes with children and firearms, 43% had at least 1 unlocked firearm (i.e., not in a locked place and not locked with a trigger lock or other locking mechanism). Overall, 9% kept firearms unlocked and loaded, and 4% kept them unlocked, unloaded, and stored with ammunition; thus, a total of 13% of the homes with children and firearms—1.4 million homes with 2.6 million children—stored firearms in a manner most accessible to children.
The article did not say that 43 percent of gun owners with children have a loaded, unlocked gun lying around their house. The correct number (from this study) is nine percent…13%, at most, if you include unlocked guns stored with ammunition.
That’s a pretty big difference. The number NBC is trumpeting is more than three or four times the actual statistic.
This is how crazy statistics get spread around the country. Very few people are going to sign up for the New England Journal of Medicine to read the original article, and even fewer people are going to go to the trouble of checking the citations in that article.
Therefore, we may have just witnessed the birth of a new statistic that will be picked up by gun control advocates and anti-gun politicians – “According to the New England Journal of Medicine, nearly HALF of gun owners WITH CHILDREN keep an unlocked, LOADED FIREARM in their home!”
Damion Bevacqua, Esq. is an attorney practicing law in Pennsylvania and can be reached at [email protected]