Gun Control Science Misfires

Gun control advocates used to claim that more guns meant more crime. Research demonstrated, though, that more guns meant less crime. As the criminology argument faded, gun control advocates began arguing guns were a public health problem.

But the public health argument is also bankrupt, according to Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D., editor of the Medical Sentinel, the journal of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Faria lays out his reasoning in the Spring 2001 issue.

The U.S. public health establishment declared in 1979 that handguns should be eradicated, beginning with a 25 percent reduction by the year 2000. Since that time, hundreds of "scientific" articles have been published in medical journals supporting the notion that guns are a public health problem.

Faria's article spotlights many of the flaws of this research, including that of Dr. Arthur Kellerman of the Emory University School of Public Health. Since the mid-1980s, Dr. Kellerman used funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to publish research purporting to show that persons who keep guns in the home are more likely to be victims of homicide than those who don't.

Dr. Kellerman claimed in a 1986 New England Journal of Medicine study that having a firearm in the home is counter-productive. He reported "a gun owner is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder."

Dr. Faria points out that Dr. Kellerman's analysis ignored the vast majority of benefits from defensive uses of guns. Since only 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent of defensive uses of guns involve the death of the criminal, Dr. Kellerman's study underestimated the protective benefits of firearms -- in terms of lives saved, injuries prevented and related medical costs -- by a factor of as much as 1,000.

In a 1993 New England Journal of Medicine study, Dr. Kellerman again reported guns in the home are a greater risk to the victims than the assailants. In addition to repeating the errors of his prior research, Dr. Kellerman used studies of populations with disproportionately high rates of serious psychosocial dysfunction such as a history of arrest, drug abuse and domestic violence. Moreover, 71 percent of the victims were killed by assailants who didn't live in the victims' household, using guns presumably not kept in the home.

Dr. Kellerman's conclusions depend on an apparent higher rate of homicides among households with guns compared to households without guns (45 percent vs. 36 percent). But Dr. Kellerman ignored his own data indicating there were enough false denials of gun ownership to reverse this result.

Controversy has also swirled around Dr. Kellerman's claim that gun availability increases the risk of suicide. Dr. Faria says "the overwhelming available evidence compiled from the psychiatric literature is that untreated or poorly managed depression is the real culprit behind high rates of suicide."

Backing this up is the observation that countries with strict gun control laws and low rates of firearm availability -- such as Japan, Germany and the Scandinavian countries -- have suicide rates that are 2 time to 3 times higher than for the U.S. In these countries, people simply substitute for guns other suicide methods such as Hara-Kiri, carbon monoxide suffocation, hanging, or chemical poisoning.

Dr. Faria also cites the work of Florida State University professor Gary Kleck and Yale University professor John R. Lott Jr. as serious challenges to gun control advocates' claim that guns are a public health problem.

In his books Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America and Targeting Guns, Kleck reports that firearms are used defensively 2.5 millions times per year, dwarfing offensive uses by criminals. Kleck says that 25 to 75 lives are saved by guns for every life lost by a gun. The medical costs saved by the defensive use of guns are 15 times greater than the costs caused by criminal use of firearms, according to Kleck.

Lott reports in his book, More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws that neither state waiting periods nor the Brady Law are associated with a reduction in crime rates. However, laws that permit the carrying of concealed weapons are associated with a 69 percent decrease in death rate from public, multiple shootings such as those that occurred in Jonesboro, Arkansas and Columbine High School.

Some concerned with gun violence in society have, in desperation, signed on to the gun control agenda. They are willing to trade basic American rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment for less violence. But it's not a fair trade.

The myth-busting work of Dr. Faria and others exposes gun control not only as being unlikely to reduce violence but also as having adverse safety and economic consequences. Junk science-fueled gun control misfires as a public health strategy.