Rx for Firearms Freedom, GRPC 2020: Young on Firearms Research

[Ed: This is the second of the talks that the DRGO leadership team gave September 20 online for the Second Amendment Foundation’s 35th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference. In my talk below, I added a couple of things for which there was not enough time on video, as well as the pertinent references. See each of our talks on the DRGO YouTube channel or at 2:17:23 here. The entire schedule of talks is here, divided into 4 parts on the SAF channel.]

Hi. I’m Dr. Robert Young, Executive Editor for Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership.

Evaluating so-called “public health research” on guns is our primary task. Typical career anti-gun academics work from unstated prejudice that guns are bad and so reducing gun ownership is desirable. They pick and choose their data, emphasizing factors that tend their way rather than objectively examining changes over time. Their statistical analyses are skewed toward methods that support their preferred outcome, that guns are responsible for violence. As a result, they make a lot of mistakes but keep getting a pass for them.

For example:

https://drgo.us/and-the-beat-goes-on/ (CDC through Wintemute below)

  • In January, the CDC claimed that “school homicides” “skyrocketed from 2009 to 2018. They implied that these represent the “mass school shootings” we all fear, but they included any shooting death on or even near a school property. This exaggeration netted 21 events per year. But by the FBI’s standard “mass shooting” definition, there were just 30 episodes in schools with 90 total victims during all 10 years—3 per year, 3 victims each on average. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6803a1.htm?s_cid=mm6803a1_w
  • In February, Pediatrics asserted that increased handgun ownership over 3 decades caused increased child deaths by gunshot—“skyrocketing” during the 3rd decade in 1 to 4 year-olds from .36 to .64 per 100,000. There were 80 such deaths in 2017; if this held, the baseline would be 46, but that difference is just too small in our population to infer a meaningful trend. The truth: they cherry-picked their study years—these deaths have been declining consistently for decades.  https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/143/2/e20181171
  • Once in a blue moon, a well-designed study has unexpected results, such as work in February on California’s highly restrictive state background checks from 1991 through 2005. The authors had to acknowledge that these checks made NO difference in the incidence of gun-related homicide or suicide rates. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1047279718306161

https://drgo.us/and-the-beat-goes-on-2/ (BUPH through Preventive Medicine below)

  • In March, Boston University School of Public Health published work showing that household gun ownership correlated with rates of firearm suicide by adolescents from 2005 through 2015. True, but it also correlated with ALL means of suicide by adolescents, and not with their rate of suicide attempts by any means—meaning that household gun ownership is irrelevant to suicidal behavior in adolescents. And correlation does not prove causation.
  • Also in March, another Boston University group claimed that more stringent gun laws reduced “mass shootings” from 1998 through 2015. Categorizing laws as simply restrictive versus permissive, as well as assuming they knew how many firearms people possess, mar this study. Even then they detected a difference of only .05 incidents per million people, or 1 event for every 20 million. Garbage in, garbage out. https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l542
  • April’s Preventive Medicine ran a study that came to the simplistic conclusion that access to guns correlates with “gun violence”. But “hostility” and “impulsivity” correlated even more strongly than mere “gun access” in presaging “violence”, which was defined as the mere thought of threatening someone, not doing anything. This was based on a one-time survey returned by 600-some high school students from 7 cities across the South—a tiny, self-reporting, unvalidated population.
  • In May, a study in the American Journal of Medicine compared lifetime death rates from “firearms, drug overdoses, and motor vehicle accidents.” And there’s the rub: firearms, unlike ODs and MVAs are not a cause of death. The results, respectively, .93%, 1.52% and .95%, showed that causes of death involving firearms are no more frequent than in accidents involving vehicles—so our focus should be on the ODs first. https://www.ammoland.com/2020/08/more-medical-propaganda-disguised-as-a-study-about-firearms-and-risk/
  • A criminology professor at Florida State University (Gary Kleck’s own school!) argued in July that household gun ownership and concealed carry laws increase rates of firearm homicide and mass shootings. But she too exaggerated what “mass shootings” are, and explained the careful planning of mass shooters as somehow related to the “impulsivity” she sees in all gun owners. Her data were faulty, with no objective controls or trend analysis. Her results really showed that there was no relationship between any of these.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07418825.2020.1789693 https://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/another-misleading-study-on-gun-ownership-and-violence-chases-its-own-questionable-tail/

www.ammoland.com/2020/08/nra-ila-contrived-data-at-odds-with-lived-reality

[DRGO’s responses rarely get published in journals. I am on review panels for two of them, so once in a while we have input.] But, we can win, though our letters to editors rarely see print. Members publish research and I’m on review panels for two journals.

Dr. Cailinn Langmann of McMasters University is a DRGO expert. In June, he compared changes in Canadian firearm laws versus suicide and homicide rates there from 1991 to 2016. He evaluated trends in death rates before and after legislation in 1991, ‘94 and 2001 that progressively restricted gun rights. He also chose meaningful comparisons: areas with high numbers for existing suicides, unemployment, poverty, and Native population density. Each of these correlated with higher rates of homicide and suicide—but not gun ownership.  

https://drgo.us/believe-it-or-not-gun-laws-change-nothing/ (DRGO summary)

[Langmann’s study is remindful of one by Dr. Mark Hamill, also a DRGO reviewer, from January 2019. I was privileged to review it and recommend journal publication. He demonstrated that the relative stringency of state concealed-carry laws makes no difference in rates of homicide or violent crime. It was extremely well-designed, meticulously gathering, categorizing and analyzing data, then identifying changes in trends of violence, resulting in highly reliable conclusions.]

https://drgo.us/concealed-carry-does-not-increase-violent-crime/ (DRGO summary)

Science is supposed to be clear, logical and objective. Unfortunately, it is as messy and ego-driven as any other human endeavor. Even though these studies really show that neither civilian gun ownership nor gun laws have anything to do with rates of suicide, homicide, mass shootings or other violence, these researchers misstate their own results and cannot give up their bias against guns.. DRGO will continue to draw a line in the sand against bad science in gun research and will promote the good. We’re having some influence, and hope that will grow. Thank you.

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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