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More JAMA Flim-Flam: Flawed Study Takes Aim at “Stand Your Ground”

Friday, November 18, 2016

More JAMA Flim-Flam: Flawed Study Takes Aim at “Stand Your Ground”

This week, the Journal of the American Medical Association’s (JAMA) online Internal Medicine Network published a “study” by a team of academics in England that purports to analyze “the Impact of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Self-defense Law on Homicide and Suicide by Firearm,” with the authors concluding, “implementation of Florida’s stand your ground self-defense law was associated with a significant increase in homicides and homicides by firearm but no change in rates of suicide or suicide by firearm.”  

You’d think with a conclusion like that, the study found that the Florida law actually had a negative impact on public safety.  But you’d be wrong.  Rather, this article stands as but another example how anti-gun scholars continue to perpetuate bad science in order to push their agenda with improper methodology, misleading claims, and a purposeful failure to follow base statistical protocols in conducting an analysis. 

An incisive rebuttal to the study published in National Review points out that even taken at face value, the findings have virtually no significance for public policy. Indeed, the JAMA authors admit near the end of their paper that “[o]ur study examined the effect of the Florida law on homicide and homicide by firearm, not on crime and public safety.”

This caveat is necessary because “the study” completely ignores the essential question of whether the firearm-related deaths it focuses on arose from unlawful aggression or lawful self-defense.

The whole point of a Stand-your-ground law, of course, is to give innocent people who are threatened by unlawful violence another possible option in determining how to safely respond. It negates the mandatory duty to retreat before resorting to lethal defensive force, allowing the individual who is actually subject to the threat to determine whether retreat or countermeasures are the safer option.  

While the authors of the JAMA study likely disagree, if fault and justice have anything to do with the law – and they should – self-defense is not an outcome to be deplored. Putting the law on the side of innocent victims is not a flaw of Stand-your-ground laws. It’s the point of them. 

In short, because the authors don’t account for the differences between those homicides which are justifiable self-defense and those which are not, their “study” fails to provide any real insight on the effects of the law.  This, of course, is by design.  Pushing the biased narrative that Stand-your-ground is problematic is their point, not whether the law had a positive or negative impact on public safety.

As the National Review article further explains, the authors of the JAMA study also erred in failing to understand that some jurisdictions impose Stand-your-ground by statute, while in other states the doctrine has arisen through court decisions. Thus, the authors mislabel one of the four states they use as a “comparison” group as lacking Stand-your-ground, when in fact that state incorporates the principle in its common law.

In other words, the authors couldn’t be bothered with researching even the most basic question of which states have Stand-your-ground and which do not.  This is often the case where public health researchers move beyond their normal field of expertise.  The fact that the authors also fail to control for a host of other social and economic variables that likely impact the number of homicides in any given year is further proof of their general incompetence to answer a complex research question related to Stand-your-ground in Florida or anywhere else.

Which brings us to a broader point.  A popular myth pushed by the media is that the NRA somehow exercises a “stranglehold” on scientific inquiry into the causes and cures for violence committed with firearms.

That’s not true, and it couldn’t be true. Academic researchers are free to study whatever they want. And private entities can fund whatever research they want.

Even governmental entities can fund or conduct research related to violence committed with firearms. And they do

There is, however, a federal appropriations restriction that applies to the Centers for Disease Control and to the National Institute of Health that prohibits the use of taxpayer money “to advocate or promote gun control.” 

And therein lies the difference.  

The funding restriction arose from the fact that it was the stated intention of certain CDC officials during the 1990s “to systematically build the case that owning firearms causes deaths” and “to convince Americans that guns are, first and foremost, a public health menace.”

In other words, the officials did not approach the subject in the spirit of open-minded scientific inquiry. Rather, they hoped to use the veneer of science and government to “discover” answers through “research” that were preordained by their politics.

That bias applies to such research efforts is not NRA’s fault. It’s the fault of an academic community whose research output has repeatedly been exposed as shoddy and haphazard at best and transparently agenda-driven at worst. 

Like the media itself, public health researchers have sullied their own reputations and earned the skepticism of the gun-owning community and the larger community of critical thinkers.

Public funding of these sorts of efforts will hopefully remain curtailed under the Trump administration. But the studies will persist, because the antigun agenda that underlies them persists. And the private billionaires funding that agenda – including George Soros and Michael Bloomberg – will continue to need outlets for their prohibitionist expenditures. 

We know the mainstream media will not approach this sham science skeptically. But gun owners and policymakers should.

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NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.