More junk science confected to question firearms carry
November 15, 2009
by Joseph P. Tartaro
There will always be a public debate over the wisdom of carrying, or even possessing, a firearm for defensive purposes. Those who are confirmed in their opposition to keeping and bearing arms will never abandon that position. And one of the favorite devices they use to win support for their opposition to guns is to promote a steady stream of reports and studies designed to convince others that owning or carrying a gun for protection is more dangerous than being totally unarmed.
Every one of those studies we have seen and reviewed has been flawed. In fact, a couple of years ago the National Academy of Science was asked to conduct a review of all the reported literature on the subject and gave every one a failing grade.
It turned out that there was very little real science involved.
The public, which seems to have ignored those studies, continues to buy, keep and carry guns for one main purpose: personal protection. Perhaps that is the main reason a whopping majority of the American public continues to support the right to keep and bear arms.
But that does not stop the study mills. And every new study seems to get a lot of attention from the general media.
The most recent one, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, is no exception. It proves to be more junk science, but the media grabbed the anti-gun bait again. Probably before long you will hear people from the Brady Campaign or Violence Policy Center, if not members of the Senate, regurgitating its claims with convictionat least the core “finding”that anyone possessing a gun during an assault situation is 4.5 more likely to be killed or injured than anyone who does not have a gun.
It was billed as a “first-of-its-kind study.” The general media reported that epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault.
The study was released online in October in the American Journal of Public Health, in advance of print publication in November.
“This study helps resolve the long-standing debate about whether guns are protective or perilous,” notes study author Charles C. Branas, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology, in a publicity release.
“Will possessing a firearm always safeguard against harm or will it promote a false sense of security?” was the question this junk science was supposed to answer.
The media reported that almost five Philadelphians were shot every day over the course of the study and about 1 of these 5 people died. The research team concluded that, although successful defensive gun uses are possible and do occur each year, the chances of success are low. The study’s authors claim it was designed to get people to rethink their possession on guns or, at least, understand that regular possession necessitates careful safety countermeasures, the study’s authors claimed.
The Penn researchers investigated the link between being shot in an assault and a person’s possession of a gun at the time of the shooting. As identified by police and medical examiners, they randomly selected 677 cases of Philadelphia residents who were shot in an assault from 2003 to 2006. Six percent of these cases were in possession of a gun (such as in a holster, pocket, waistband, or vehicle) when they were shot.
These shooting cases were matched to Philadelphia residents who acted as the study’s controls. To identify the controls, trained phone canvassers called random Philadelphians soon after a reported shooting and asked about their possession of a gun at the time of the shooting. These random Philadelphians had not been shot and had nothing to do with the shooting.
“The US has at least one gun for every adult,” noted Branas. “Learning how to live healthy lives alongside guns will require more studies such as this one. This study should be the beginning of a better investment in gun injury research through various government and private agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, which in the past have not been legally permitted to fund research ‘designed to affect the passage of specific federal, state, or local legislation intended to restrict or control the purchase or use of firearms.’ ”
The Penn study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on Oct. 16 linked this study to a recent news event involving a woman who had gained public attention previously by carrying a gun to a soccer match.
The newspaper reminded readers that Meleanie Hain of Lebanon, PA, used to tell the news media that she carried a Glock 26 pistol everywhere she went to protect herself and her children. Then last week she was shot to death by her husband in what police called a murder-suicide.
But that anecdote did not validate the study. Nor was it part of the study.
Gun research is fraught with difficulty, the experts say. Not only is it politically and emotionally charged, but privacy issues make it hard to get large-scale data on who owns a gun and who carries one.
For this study, Branas and his colleagues relied on police to get information on shootings in Philadelphia between 2003 and 2006a total of 3,485.
The researchers got the locations, victims’ description and whether they had guns with them at the time. They randomly chose 677 of the victims for the study, from various occupationstaxi drivers, bartenders, nurses and drug dealers. Fifty-three percent had criminal records. Six percent had guns with them when they were shot.
Branas then compared this “case” group with a group of “control” subjectssimilar residents of Philadelphia who had not been shot. Controls were matched to each victim according to race, age and sex. The controls were called soon after each shooting and asked whether they had a gun close by during the same 15- to 30-minute interval. The goal was to see if those who got shot were likelier to have guns.
The controls were equally likely to have a gun with them, but more than 80% of them were at home at the time of the incident. Only 9 percent of the victims were home when they were shot.
Then Branas said he made statistical corrections for this and other factors that might influence a person’s chance of being a victim, such as neighborhood type, a person’s use of alcohol, and involvement in the drug trade.
After all the corrections were put in, he and his colleagues concluded that the people in the study who were carrying a gun at any given time interval were more than four times as likely to be shot.
Branas offered several possible explanations. Having guns could induce people to behave differently, he said, perhaps emboldening them. Another possibility, he said, is that people are having their firearms turned on them.
But several statisticians not involved in the gun research said you can’t reach such sweeping conclusions with this kind of study.
The Inquirer reported that criminologist Gary Kleck of Florida State University said the Penn results can be explained by the fact that people who are at risk of being shot are also more likely to buy or carry guns. Such people might have dangerous jobs or belong to a street gang or be involved in the illicit drug trade, for example.
In an e-mail to the newspaper, Kleck explained his view with an analogy. “It is precisely as if medical researchers found that insulin use is more common among persons who suffer from diabetes than among those who are not diabetic (something that is most assuredly true), and concluded that insulin use raises one’s risk of diabetes.”
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