In January, President Obama “issued a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other scientific agencies to research the causes and prevention of gun violence--and he called on Congress to provide $10 million to pay for it.” Federal law currently prohibits the CDC from using the taxpayers’ money to pay anti-gun researchers to conduct studies that advocate gun control.
It was no surprise, then, when on March 6 the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a longtime supporter of gun control, published a summary of a study--in this case partially funded by the anti-gun Joyce Foundation--purporting to show an association between several dozen state-level gun control laws on gun prohibition activist groups’ wish-list, and firearm-related suicide and homicide rates.
“The authors acknowledged that they showed only an association; they did not prove that more laws on firearms translate into fewer deaths.” And, surprisingly, other flaws of the study were extensively addressed by one of the most aggressive gun control supporters in the country, Garen Wintemute, of the University of California (Davis), in a commentary published in JAMA concurrently.
Wintemute wrote, “[C]orrelation does not imply causation. This fundamental limitation is beyond the power of the authors to redress. And there are additional concerns. The study’s list and scoring system for firearm laws were based on information from [two gun control] advocacy organizations. The scorecard has never been validated for research purposes. . . . Suicide accounted for 94% of the observed decrease in firearm-related mortality. . . . [H]owever, these laws should have their greatest effect on criminal violence. . . .When [the study’s authors] accounted for the prevalence of firearm ownership, the association between firearm laws and firearm fatalities essentially disappeared.”
Elsewhere, Wintemute said “We cannot say that these laws--individually or in aggregate--drive firearm death rates up or down.”
One of the problems with the study is that, as noted above, to come up with a mathematical relationship between gun laws and firearm-related fatalities, the researchers gave each of the laws between 1 and 10 points, based upon a scorecard constructed by gun prohibition activist groups. As one might expect, the groups decide how many points to give a law not on the basis of whether the law has an effect on suicide or homicide rates, but rather on the basis of the groups’ ideological enthusiasm for the law.
This approach results, for example, in California being given the highest score in 2011 (81 points) for having the most gun control laws, even though its murder rate (4.8 per 100,000 population) is higher than the rate for the rest of the country, while Utah, with a murder rate of 1.9, was in last place with zero points.
No serious and honest student of gun control believes that gun control laws determine overall suicide or murder rates. For one thing, studies for Congress, the National Academy of Sciences and even the CDC have concluded that there is no evidence the gun control reduces crime. In its annual crime report, the FBI lists factors that determine that type and volume of crime in a jurisdiction, and gun laws is not on the list. And it has been widely recognized that violent crime dropped significantly in the 1990s due to the improved economy, the reduction of the crack cocaine trade, criminal justice reforms that increased penalties for the most serious violent offenders, and improved policing programs in cities with particular crime problems.
Second, as gun control laws have been eliminated or ameliorated at the federal, state and local levels--highlighted by the elimination of laws that prohibited the carrying of firearms for protection in most states--Americans have bought over 120 million new guns (about half of them semi-automatic), and the nation’s murder rate has been cut in half, to a 48-year low in 2011, nearly the lowest point in history. The FBI has preliminarily reported that it fell another two percent in the first half of 2012. Since 1991, when violent crime peaked, the decrease has been greater among murders involving firearms, than among those not involving firearms.
Secondly, the study did not recognize that suicide rates are dependent upon the intent of victims, rather than on the means available to complete their acts. As an example, during the 2007-2010 time frame the study examined, Hawaii--a state that requires registration of firearms and that has a relatively low level of gun ownership--had a firearm suicide rate of 2.4 per 100,000 population, placing it 47th among the states, but its non-firearm suicide rate was second highest in the country, at 9.7.
Third, the study apparently did not control for the degree to which state populations are prone to violence generally. For many years, Louisiana has had the highest homicide rate among the states. It should come as no surprise that while in the 2007-2010 time frame it had the highest firearm homicide rate, but also the second highest non-firearm homicide rate. Similarly, while the United States has a higher firearm-related murder rate than Western European countries, it also has a higher rate of murder with knives and other non-firearm weapons.
Fourth, the study did not distinguish between criminal homicides and those resulting from self-defense. Criminologist Gary Kleck, some years ago, estimated that self-defense homicides accounted for between 5.6 and 13 percent of all homicides, excluding those committed by law enforcement officers.
Like virtually all studies of its type, this one begs for another hand-out. “As our study could not determine cause-and-effect relationships, further studies are necessary to define the nature of this association,” the researchers say. Translation: “If there is going to be a seat on the gravy train, we want to park our cabooses smack dab in the middle of it.”
That’s fine, if the Joyce Foundation wants to throw its money at anti-gun junk studies that, to avoid criticism by fellow researchers, admit they have proven nothing but, for a fee, are willing to try again. Wasting taxpayers’ money on something intended to promote the eradication of their rights is another matter altogether.