A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine attempted to “determine changes in handgun acquisition patterns after the mass shootings in Newton, Connecticut, in 2012 and San Bernardino, California, in 2015.” The authors used California purchases as their focus because that state keeps permanent records of all legal firearms transactions.
The considerable effort taken to answer what is common sense to many Americans is interesting, if not perplexing.
The study found that the number of handgun purchases increases after a tragedy like Newtown or San Bernardino, and that handgun purchases increased more in areas in close proximity to the tragedy. There was a larger increase in purchases in San Bernardino, CA, after the terrorist attack in that city than after the Newtown shooting on the other side of the country – when the threat is close to home, the need to be able to defend oneself is clearer. The lead author of the study admitted the role of the need for self-defense: “‘This, I think, reinforces the idea that safety and security concerns are motivating these purchases,’ [David M.] Studdert said.”
While this is not a game-changing insight, the study is being used by outlets like CNN and Vocativ.com to paint firearms ownership as a problem. The articles covering this study touch on some of the most well-traveled and thoroughly discredited anti-gun talking points. Australian-style buy-backs, gun show loopholes, and oversimplified polls are all mentioned in articles on a study of how law-abiding Americans react to criminal and terrorist attacks.
The authors of the study themselves admit that the spikes in handgun purchases after such events are short-lived. “‘If you are concerned about public health implications of gun ownership, I’m not sure these spikes are exactly where you want to be looking,’ Studdert said. ‘There’s an enormous stockpile of guns out there already in households.’” Studdert told KPBS San Diego that, “With additional gun purchases come additional concerns about security, and that prompts more people to buy weapons, and so on.” The basis for that claim is unclear.
So, public health researchers conduct a study that discovers a well-known fact, admit their findings confirm a well-known fact, and then casually allege that something unrelated to their study is the true “public health implication.”
Millions of law-abiding Americans may be surprised to find out that the simple act of exercising their Constitutional right has “public health implications,” but once again, we’re shown why all of us must remain skeptical when presented “evidence” relating to an argued connection between firearms and their criminal misuse in America.