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Don't believe mainstream media mistruths about firearms research

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 (Reuters)

If we are to believe the mainstream media, the powerful NRA has used its political muscle to keep people ignorant of how guns impact our safety. They are supposedly to blame for the elimination of firearms research. This is all a result of a 1996 amendment to the federal budget stating “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.”

Thus last month, ABC News reported: “In 1996 the NRA successfully lobbied Congress to pull millions of dollars out of government-funded firearms research. This has resulted in essentially a 17 year moratorium on major studies about gun injuries.”

The Washington Post worried: “[Academics] were forced to stop their work at the point of a gun — or at least at the insistence of National Rifle Association.” Thousands of news reports have made the same assertions over the last 13 months.

Nice story line, but a new report from the Crime Prevention Research Center shows none of this is true. The amendment didn’t ban federal research. Indeed, to the contrary, federal funded research, which was never an important part of the total, actually increased since then.

Besides, the NRA is not the only interest group involved in this battle. Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who wants to protect you from buying oversized drinks or eating too much salt, is using his $31 billion fortune to fund anti-gun research through organizations such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Moms Demand Action, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, his Alma Mater. His crusade to protect Americans from guns is only now kicking into high gear.

Of course, academics are always enthusiastic about receiving more government funding for research. Take Professor Mark Rosenberg at Emory University, former head of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. He described how the cut in federal grants cultivated an atmosphere of fear and “scared people” or “terrorized people.” And Jens Ludwig at the University of Chicago argued that without federal money, “it is very difficult” to conduct research. A number of academics, many from top universities, signed an open letter demanding more federal funding for their research.

But where is the evidence that restrictions on federal funding dramatically cut such research? In January 2013 Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns in January 2013 published a study stating (pp. 2, 15): “As a result, peer-reviewed research on gun violence has sharply declined. A review conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns showed that academic publishing on firearm violence fell by 60 percent between 1996 and 2010. . . . Academics working in the field describe how constricted federal funding for firearm research has discouraged research in the area.”

It’s easy to show this “fact” to be a blatantly false manipulation of the data. While they claim that the number of firearms studies fell, what they actually showed is that the percent of all medical journal articles on firearms fell. The logic is rather twisted: gun-studies rose but not as fast as the number of other medical studies. Thus, as a ratio, there is a decline, but that is not what they are telling everyone. They never reported the number of firearm deaths.

Take a closer look at these numbers. Consider the number of firearm articles in medical journals in the five years before the restriction on federal funding in 1996 and the last five years (2009-13). There was an increase of 40 percent. Federally funded research also increased, but federal funds were never that important, only supporting about 3 percent of all the studies done.

The deliberate manipulation by Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns is obvious. The organization obviously looked for some way to adjust the numbers to reach the conclusion that there was a decline in research about guns.

What few reporters seem to realize is that academics at most reputable universities get paid to do research. Professors are typically expected to spend about half their time on research, and they get to decide what they are going to work on. For instance, I have myself conducted some of the largest studies on gun laws but never received any federal funding. People such as Bloomberg and George Soros have also funded a number of studies.

Being against government funding of research is not the same as being against “science.” It is simply not credible to believe that the Obama administration can keep politics out the grant giving process. It isn’t just academics who will be subsidized, but academics who agree with the Obama administration.

Support for gun control has been plummeting, reaching its lowest level since such poll questions began. Gun control advocates are desperate to change this, and they know that the mainstream media is only too happy to repeat whatever questionable “facts” they put out.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.