Thinking fast and slow and gun lobby

David Robert Grimes has the unmitigated temerity to consider evidence for claims that guns make us safer.

Academics such as John Lott and Gary Kleck have long claimed that more firearms reduce crime. But is this really the case? Stripped of machismo bluster, this is at heart a testable claim that merely requires sturdy epidemiological analysis. And this was precisely what Prof Charles Branas and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania examined in their 2009 paper investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault. They compared 677 cases in which people were injured in a shooting incident with 684 people living in the same area that had not suffered a gun injury. The researchers matched these “controls” for age, race and gender. They found that those with firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry, utterly belying this oft repeated mantra.

Yes but that’s all those other people. That’s statistics. I am different. If I had a gun I would use it the right way and never get overconfident or belligerent and never accidentally shoot my foot off. By the same token, if I opened a restaurant, it would succeed, and if I gambled invested in the stock market, I would make millions, and if I smoked, I would get healthier.

This result is not particularly unexpected. Prof David Hemenway of Harvard school of public health has published numerous academic investigations in this area and found that such claims are rooted far more in myth than fact. While defensive gun use may occasionally occur successfully, it is rare and very much the exception – it doesn’t change the fact that actually owning and using a firearm hugely increases the risk of being shot. This is a finding supported by numerous other studies in health policy, including several articles in the New England Journal of Medicine. Arguments to the contrary are not rooted in reality; the Branas study also found that for individuals who had time to resist and counter in a gun assault, the odds of actually being shot actually increased to 5.45 fold relative to an individual not carrying.

Well…the thing to do then is just make sure that the people who can affect the legislation are hindered from finding out about all these pesky studies.

Until the 1990s, research into gun violence wasn’t a threat to the gun lobby, because it essentially didn’t exist. Most policymakers and public-health specialists viewed gun injuries simply as accidents that couldn’t be prevented.

But a group of CDC researchers disagreed, viewing gun injuries instead as predictable and preventable—and seeing a desperate need for rigorous research into how reduce them.

“We said, there’s two injuries that are the leading cause of death in the U.S. right now: cars and guns,” recalled Mark Rosenberg, who helped establish the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), in part to study gun violence. “We spend hundreds of millions on cars, we spend nothing on guns.”

And so, the NCIPC began collecting data on gun violence, as well as funding outside research on the subject, including the two studies led by Kellermann. “It was producing very, very helpful information,” said Rosenberg.

But in doing so, thanks in part to the Kellerman studies, the agency provoked the ire of the gun lobby. After Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, lawmakers allied with the NRA zeroed in on the NCIPC. “There was an immediate push not just to stop gun research, but to terminate the entire center,” Kellermann recounted.

Shoot that god damn messenger, eh?

Ultimately, NCIPC survived, but in 1996, Rep. Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican and the NRA’s point man in Congress, engineered an effort to cut $2.6 million from its budget—exactly the amount it had spent on gun violence research the previous year. (The funding was later restored by the Senate, but earmarked for traumatic brain injury, ensuring it couldn’t be used for gun violence work.) And the following sentence was added to the law funding CDC: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

No stinkin’ research for them. Shut it down.

Shaming, isn’t it.



  1. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    And if the god damn messenger had been carrying, xe would have been 4.5 times more likely to have been shot!

    Or something.

    It amazes me that so many people in the US are blind to just how much needless death and suffering is caused by this pathological love of guns. I wonder if it might be harder to remove this from the American psyche than even Christianity. After all, unlike Jesus, guns are right there in the Constitution!

  2. says

    But don’t be fooled, it’s not the majority. Far from it. It’s a powerful lobby, not majoritarian stupidity.

    Which of course makes it all the more infuriating.

  3. says

    It is massively overdue, but there is one encouraging thing: the Obama administration has taking executive action for the CDC to resume research into reducing gun violence (see the link below). I have not seen a budget number associated with that order. There are also lower-level initiatives for such research, which would provide some funding. But a few million dollars per year not spent on getting actual reliable data on how to make it so that significantly fewer people get shoot seems like negligence.

  4. machintelligence says

    I’m terribly sorry, but the study this article was based on is bullshit. The study group was individuals who were assaulted while carrying a weapon, but I found no mention of what proportion of them were doing so legally. They were then matched against unarmed individuals in the same area. They seem to have proved that criminals (who carry illegal firearms) are more likely to get shot than honest folks.
    A drug deal goes bad and both parties are armed. At least one gets shot — and this is a surprise?

    At the time of shooting, case participants were also significantly more often involved with alcohol and drugs,

    Situations in which the victim had at least some chance to resist may have generated gun assault risks when one considers that many of these events were 2-sided situations in which both parties were ready and mutually willing to fight on the basis of a prior argument.

    Which sounds like armed gang members.
    There may be heightened risks for those who legally carry a concealed weapon, but this study doesn’t demonstrate that.

  5. Francisco Bacopa says

    Grew up in a gun family, but I am not a gun person. I always figured that a lone good guy with a gun is likely to become a dead guy with a gun.

    If someone has the drop on you with a gun and you bring out a gun, they will shoot you. They have a gun and you don’t. Give them what they want and live another day. They have a gun and want you to go someplace with them? Run like hell. If they shoot you what does that show they are? Murderers. Are you going to go someplace with a murderer? Someplace they feel comfortable doing whatever they might do? Always run, always resist. They probably won’t shoot, and if they do, you will be in an open location where you can get help.

    But all what I just said applies to a narrow set of circumstances. There’s not that that many stranger on stranger violent crimes. Most murderers know their victims, almost all rapes are acquaintance rapes. But we are trained to see milder domestic assaults as not really assault. And we apologize for acquaintance rapes. These crimes far outnumber stranger on stranger crimes, excluding property crimes.

    I have never owned or shot a gun, but I grew up in a gun family. You want to defend your home? Get a semiauto shotgun with mid sized shot and light loads. The five shots will rip the hell out of anyone with no chance of going through walls. Fife shots is enough. No massacres. Just home defense. Hard to conceal.

  6. deepak shetty says

    I am different. If I had a gun I would use it the right way and never get overconfident or belligerent and never accidentally shoot my foot off.
    When did Sam Harris start guest posting at B&W?

  7. James Howde says

    While this supports what I already think; you have to accept that studies of this kind have a big problem with the control group.

    It’s possible, even likely, that people who are in real danger of being shot are more likely to get a gun than those who aren’t – – leading to a more people die in hospital than in riots type statistic.

    To do it right you’d have to take guns off some people and force them on others and that isn’t going to happen.

  8. Didaktylos says

    I think a far more useful study would be what proportion of occasions where an ordinary citizen uses a firearm in anger are successful acts of resistance against violent crime.

  9. says

    Yes but that’s all those other people. That’s statistics. I am different. If I had a gun I would use it the right way and never get overconfident or belligerent and never accidentally shoot my foot off.

    Yeah, that’s me. I AM different. *grins*

    The thing is, I don’t think I’m what you base your laws on. I don’t think the dietitians should base things on the nutritional needs of NFL players or extreme endurance athletes. Hell, there might even be a few people out there who are better drivers drunk than sober, but I don’t want to risk all of our lives on that chance. I have spent enough time on the range to know that I’m the exception, and that most people who own firearms barely get out to the range at all. The statistics confirm my anecdotes about gun owners in general, and I don’t think we risk all of your lives and safety on the off-chance that I’m the one carrying the gun this time.

    The other thing? Living in a way that allows a gun to be available for immediate self-defense and your mind focused in a way that you can shoot the other person before they shoot you? Horrible, seriously soul-crushing. I moved out of the dangerous neighborhood I was living in and got rid of that gun just as soon as I could find a reasonable offer. Sold it to a cop, which made me feel better.

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