Recently the United States House of Representatives passed legislation to protect the right to bear arms that extends each state’s authorization to carry to all states. This was not to the liking of Daniel Webster, the Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, an arm of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
His op-ed in The Hill is absurdly titled “Gun owners and Republicans really don’t want concealed carry reciprocity” (italics added), which tips us off right away how inaccurate the whole thing is. He cites a survey from Johns Hopkins purporting to show that most gun owners are in favor of requiring those carrying a concealed firearm to pass a test showing they “can lawfully handle a gun in common situations they might encounter”.
Many things about this survey are not revealed in the Webster’s piece or in the report itself, including how gun owners were identified. It is generally accepted that many gun owners are unlikely to identify themselves as gun owners for privacy reasons. The fact that 35% of gun owners have become likely to decline to answer such questions makes such surveys inherently skewed. Also, most of us have been exposed to surveys that ask a series of questions designed to lead to a particular outcome, such as making a financial contribution. One doesn’t have to be paranoid to suspect that the survey Webster references was designed and created with an anti-Second Amendment conclusion as a goal.
Webster’s piece also likens legally carrying a firearm to legally driving a car. That is, of course, part of the argument for recognizing valid carry rights nationwide. And unlike bearing arms, there is no constitutional right to drive a car.
The right to keep and bear arms is more appropriately compared to voting, serving in public office or practicing a religion. The notion that gun owners support more requirements to carry firearms is on its face suspect. And this idea conflicts with virtual ties in other surveys whether gun laws should be more strict or not (52 to 48%) and that it is more important to control gun ownership vs. protect the right to own guns (51 to 47%).
He also draws on a flawed “working paper” by John J. Donahue, with Cambridge’s National Bureau of Economics Research, which like the Johns Hopkins survey noted above, was apparently never published in a peer-reviewed journal. It is available to educators or for pay online, via a laudatory Stanford News article. The Donahue study attempts to link violent crime to laws that make concealed carry easier. The shortcomings of this exercise have been extensively described.
Among other problems is that the Donahue paper finds a statistical association and implies that demonstrates a causal relationship. Just because two things are linked statistically it doesn’t mean that one is the cause of the other.
Another problem is using a projected, not actual, numbers of crimes to draw conclusions. With this, the authors were comparing what happened in a state with the expanded right with what they believed might have happened in that state had the right not been expanded. The latter assumption is hypothetical, which makes their conclusions hypothetical.
More realistic analysis of the impact of new laws in a given state comes from observing how they affect the state’s own violence patterns. Pre-existing trends prior to a new law’s enactment should be compared to changes over a long enough subsequent period of time to be meaningful. The state itself is its own best control.
Moving from the Donahue paper back to Webster’s, it is interesting that he talks about some states granting the right to carry a concealed gun without a “safety test,” by which he presumably means some examination of the carrier’s ability to handle a gun safely. He presents no evidence that any test, examination, or procedure has been shown to reduce firearms accidents. The very idea of requiring tests to exercise a constitutional right will lead many of us to recall the Federal government protecting voting rights by outlawing the use of literacy tests to prevent people from voting.
Webster states that conflicts arise between people and “guns turn escalations into more violent and lethal encounters.” This implies that somehow guns act on their own. We see this distorted perspective again and again in statements to the effect that guns cause crime.
What Webster doesn’t mention is that criminal use of guns is almost always committed by those who possess them illegally. Conflating legal and illegal possession is, of course, a persistent problem. Opponents of Second Amendment rights would punish legal gun owners as if that would reduce criminal firearm use. Extraordinarily few legal firearm owners commit crimes with them.
He also asserts that in “mass shooting situations an armed civilian never—not once—intervened to end it.” That is patently false; such events are reported daily nationwide and have been well-researched Anti-gun writers purposely ignore when armed civilians successfully intervene to prevent or limit mass shootings below the standard definition of four or more indiscriminate fatalities. There is also no way to know how many such incidents never occur because perpetrators are afraid there might be armed citizens present.
He notes that the state of Utah extends concealed carry reciprocity “without safety tests even to out of state residents.” We can presume that Utah honors driver’s and marriage licenses from other states without imposing its own testing. He also advocates “reforms to prudently regulate guns” in a way that implies such “reforms” would be a good idea. Across states and at the federal level there are presumably some prudent firearm regulations in place, although many are unnecessary, and/or unduly restrictive, and/or unconstitutional.
Underlying the paper by Webster, the study he cites and the Bloomberg School is, of course, Bloomberg money. While Bloomberg talks about reducing gun violence, what he really seeks is to curtail the right to keep and bear arms. Following this line of reasoning, we could eliminate divorce if we outlawed marriage.
—Thomas E. Gift, MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist practicing in Rochester, New York, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical School, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.
— 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.