Beating Dead Horses


[Ed: Continuing to carry the beat, so to speak, here are a few more studies that, with any study, wouldn’t have been reported at all. “Statistical significance” does not prove a contention and is often of insignificant significance.]

Here’s one that made The Daily Mail March 26, telling us that “More U.S. children were killed with guns in 2017 than police officers and military personnel COMBINED”. This, from the Anglo world leader in knife assaults and mounting violent crime since it banned most firearms and the right to defend with them.

Indeed, the lede is factual. About 1,144 law enforcement officers and military personnel were killed on duty in 2017—fewer than any year’s shooting deaths of 5 to 18 year olds since 1999, fewer even than those of 15 to 18 year olds. Of course, to start with, the common notion of “children” is not generally 15 to 18 year olds. But it makes a great headline.

We don’t even have to look at the original research. Daily Mail “social affairs” reporter Valerie Bauman tells more than she understood in graphs. You’ll see that 2013 had the lowest number of 15 to 18 year old shooting deaths since 1999; 5-14 year olds had an average number for the period, but together choosing the year 2013 to compare to 2017 gave the most dramatic change to publicize. There have been wide variations above and below their means since 1999. If we looked at 1999 versus 2017, the conclusion would have been that there has been no change, just as deceptive a finding as theirs implying a new dramatic death spiral.

Most died in assaults, about 1/3 by suicide and just 5% by accidents. As we might surmise, knowing where “gun violence” is endemic, black youth are far more often the victims than whites, especially among 15-18 year olds. Cherry-picking data and stating painfully obvious descriptive facts gets us no nearer helping these young people, many of whom would be attacking each other or killing themselves by other means if necessary. (Hanging is becoming increasingly popular among suicidal teens, for example.)

Next, U.S. News & World Report reassured us March 21 about a “Study: Stricter Gun Laws Linked to Safer High Schools”. This came from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a British medical publications that is peer-reviewed yet routinely overlooks the reality that laws don’t cramp bad actors’ style. The original is available here. The heart of their claims is “that strengthening gun laws at the state level was associated with teens being less likely to report being threatened or injured with a weapon at school, or missing school because they felt unsafe. Stricter gun laws were also linked less incidences of students carrying a weapon anywhere.” But it ain’t necessarily so.

To begin with, they used a gun law rating methodology that gave any restrictive law +1 and any law easing firearm availability (including limiting manufacturer liability!) a -1. (Absence of a law = 0.) This equates all measures regardless of reach and impact. Because the great majority of laws affecting firearm possession and use are restrictive, this technique always emphasizes the presence of gun control and deemphasizes the effect of fewer laws period. It also ignores that gun laws have varying, if any, effects, and that no one knows which matter more. Thus, it’s all or nothing.

The “researchers” did not do original research. They assembled data for 1999 to 2015 from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey which asks 900,000+ high school students every 2 years to report their incidence of carrying weapons in school, how often they were threatened or injured, and how many school days they missed due to fear or carrying weapons (where?). They also rated the 45 states surveyed on their gun laws in each of the survey years. They say they controlled for age, sex, race, unemployment and crime rates.

16% of students on average reported carrying weapons anywhere (but this was supposed to be about school). “Stricter laws” were associated with slightly less frequent reports of being threatened at school or carrying weapons anywhere. But they “do not observe a significant association between gun laws and weapon carrying at school”, which should be the main thing. And lots of other things changed for students over those 17 years–how schools are administered, increased attention to the risk of attacks, changes in neighborhood environments around the schools, and our culture in general and the micro-cultures of those kids’ peer groups. Most of all, the high schoolers surveyed were different every 2 years.

To their credit, they were trying to correlate the self-reports with their assessment of gun laws as they changed each year, so it is better than just a cross-sectional, single-point-in-time observation. Also to their credit, they point out that “Specific measures of firearm violence at school were not available and . . . the only direct question on gun carrying was not asked in a large number of states.” Both of these are gaping holes in their data.

There were over 14 million high school students in 1999 and well over 15 million in 2015. A 7% sample for a national survey is commendable, but 11 states plus the District of Columbia were not even covered (Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming). The data obtained did not cover each state of the remaining 39 throughout all survey years.

Finally, more for grins, here’s one from the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2018 recently pointed out by a DRGO member: “The Association of Firearm Caliber With Likelihood of Death From Gunshot Injury in Criminal Assaults”. Yes, Virginia, there is an association that only dedicated public health researchers could possibly have discerned. The larger the caliber, the greater “the likelihood of death from gunshot wounds in criminal assault.” (The series examined were all shooting deaths and a random sample of injuries recorded by Boston police from 2010 through 2014.)

While it was not their chosen “lane” for this paper, they did state a central problem unsusceptible to correction by gun laws: “Most gunshot victims and survivors were young minority men with [criminal histories]. Most attacks occurred . . . where gangs or drugs played an important role . . . Most were in outdoor locations in the disadvantaged Boston neighborhoods.” But being shot indoors was much more likely lethal, 2.6 times more than being shot outdoors. Being shot in the head or neck was quite a bit more likely to kill rather than in other parts of the body. All these factors, we know, correlate with the biggest problem—gang murders.

The calibers were virtually all typical handgun rounds, everything from .22 up to 10 mm. (Weapons were not identified. They were not always found, but some rounds could also have been used in some rifles, a fact they don’t seem to recognize, calling all but the 7.62 “handgun” shootings). There were only three shootings with .44 Magnum and, interestingly, just one, fatal shooting with the 7.62 x39mm exclusively rifle bullet.

And, mirabile dictu, “the intrinsic power and lethality of the weapon had a direct effect on the likelihood that a victim of a criminal shooting died.”

Their preferred interpretation is that “The result is [there would have been] a 39.5% reduction . . . in the gun homicide rate if the same shootings had occurred but with small-caliber weapons, rather than the actual mix of small, medium, and large calibers.”

So they find that “regulation of firearms could reduce the homicide rate” by outlawing higher caliber firearms—another example of the incremental approach to banning guns. Or perhaps we should promote “replacing all types of guns with knives or clubs” for even “larger reductions.” But they’re correct in concluding that no “particular regulation would [necessarily] satisfy a cost-benefit test”—because they never consider benefits.

This paper accomplishes nothing more than to validate a truth shooters have known for generations: Carry a gun with the biggest, hardest hitting caliber you can shoot accurately. That’s the benefit advantage for millions of safe, responsible legal gun owners that overrides everything else in this “research”.

However, that and a dollar won’t buy you a cup of coffee anymore. But millions in hoplophobic billionaire funding will get you plenty more publications like these!



Robert B Young, MD

— DRGO Editor Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

All DRGO articles by Robert B. Young, MD