Dr. Michael Siegel & DRGO

(from dreamsmoke.com)
(from dreamsmoke.com)

This piece is a disappointment. You’ll see.

I ran across an interview in late September on RecoilTV by BJ Campbell (also a writer for OpenSourceDefense, which we share on DRGO Facebook weekly). I couldn’t identify its date, but it appeared to be recent. He talked with Michael Siegel, MD, MPH of Boston University’s School of Public Health, whom Campbell names “one of the pre-eminent gun policy researchers in the world”.

Dr. Siegel is prominent enough that DRGO authors have written about his work a number of times: for example, “Debunking Suicide “Research” by Public Health Activists” (10/16/17) and “. . . And the Beat Goes On” (3/14/19). Tom Vaughan, MD wrote “New Public Database Reveals Bias of Gun-Control Researchers” (5/25/17), and upon receiving correspondence from Dr. Vaughan about that article, engaged in a productive email discussion with him. Dr. Vaughn wrote about their interaction in In “Let’s Talk About Guns” (10/24/17).

The RecoilTV interview was about Dr. Siegel’s recent publication, “The Meaning of Guns to Gun Owners in the U.S.: The 2019 National Lawful Use of Guns Survey”, which he wrote with Claire Boyne, JD, MPP, MA, also of Boston University School of Public Health. In it, they sought a “better understanding of the lawful use of guns and the symbolic meaning of guns to gun owners [in order] to bridge the divide in public opinion regarding policies to reduce gun violence in the U.S.” They surveyed a “national, prerecruited Internet panel of [2,086] U.S. adult [gun owners] in 2019 . . . to ascertain their gun-related attitudes and practices.” One wonders what a “prerecruited Internet panel” means (not likely a random, accurately representative sample, let alone considering the reasonable reluctance gun owners have developed about how they respond to surveys).

The meatiest findings were that the “majority of the gun owners viewed gun control advocates as wanting to take away all guns (58.5%). Nearly 70% of gun owners reported that a reason for their reluctance to engage in gun violence prevention was that they feel alienated because they perceive gun control advocates as blaming them for the gun violence problem, not understanding gun ownership, and not understanding much about guns.”

There are obvious, problematic assumptions just in the abstract. “Reluctance to engage in gun violence prevention” is not a problem among typical gun owners—they are the most safety-conscious people around guns. “Gun violence prevention” here suggests the sort of restrictions and legal requirements that have nothing to do with individual responsibility for safe gun ownership, and everything to do with the misapprehension that we need more control to keep society safe from us. Indeed, “Public health practitioners must develop novel communication strategies that avoid alienating gun owners by creating a perception that the ultimate aim is to take their guns away” because that “ultimate aim” is well understood, and certainly has alienated most of us.

I urge you to view the RecoilTV interview, because Dr. Siegel there demonstrated a real shift in the kind of opinions we’ve criticized in his previous work. He discussed his survey with evident sincerity about wanting to learn better what gun owners really feel and think.

So, I reached out to him via email. I pointed out problems about universal background checks and Red Flag laws, with which our readers are quite familiar, along with the rarely acknowledged necessity of including in any public health firearms study the thousands of lives likeliy saved by defensive gun uses, as shown by Gary Kleck, PhD and confirmed by the CDC. He still uses unfortunate terms like “gun violence” and “ assault weapons”, but I complimented him that that he clearly has “learned a lot about responsible gun owners & ownership” since his earlier work.

Dr. Siegel wrote right back, agreeing to do an interview or discussion for DRGO. He confirmed that he’s “learned a great deal about guns and gun ownership and that has changed [his] views in a number of ways.” He asked whether DRGO might be willing to collaborate in a “forum with gun owners and non-gun owners” to seek common ground toward reducing “gun violence” (well, there he goes again, but we would be pleased to try). He also sent me a full copy of the “2019 National Lawful Use of Guns Survey”, which I appreciated. He suggested possible times for an interview.

My fault came in not replying again for almost 2 weeks, but then I asked about some alternate times for our call. No reply. I wrote him again 3 weeks later. No reply since for the past couple of weeks.

I hope Dr. Siegel is not dead, incapacitated or kidnapped by terrorists. Otherwise, I have to wonder whether despite our agreeable introduction, someone got to him—about us at DRGO. When I met Liza Gold, MD, an academic psychiatrist who wrote a not very widely known book Gun Violence and Mental Illness, the first words out of her mouth were “I’ve heard about you guys.” (Ref: “Psychiatrist on Guns”). That was not intended as a compliment, although to us it actually is: we are recognized as a counterweight to mainstream ideology about firearms.

If you’re looking for academics who get it about guns, see: John Lott PhD; Gary Mauser PhD; Gary Kleck PhD; David Hardy, David Kopel & Stephen Halbrook, all JD’s; Miguel Faria, MD. There are plenty of others. Not to mention Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership. We are proud to be in such distinguished company.

But this episode was disappointing. We’re glad to work with anyone who will face facts instead of fictions about firearms and their proper use. But we’re OK just doing that ourselves, with colleagues who have earned our respect. And that’s the way it is.



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