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Gun Control’s Crisis of Credibility

Monday, March 15, 2021

Gun Control’s Crisis of Credibility

Who can you trust? We live in the era of fake news, spin, and shifting narratives. Everything seems to be political. Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking, “who do you trust?” Recently published research has the answers.

Anti-gun activists want you to trust doctors with no constitutional law or law enforcement expertise. They also want you to trust celebrities, people famous not for their ability to craft policy but their ability to entertain the masses – or at least some segment of the masses. 

Social media has given celebrities a platform that amplifies their opinions and importance based not on merit but popularity. Blockbuster movies, gold records, or once-loved-sitcoms do not build expertise on policy. Neither does medical training. Doctors may obtain considerably more formal education than most, but formal education in medicine does not produce policy experts. Time and again, entertainers and doctors are put front-and-center of gun control events.

A paper published in the journal Preventive Medicine examined who the American public trusted most as messengers on firearm safety. The authors asked respondents to rank 14 types of people and organizations in terms of credibility to discuss firearm safety. The authors focus on suicide prevention, but the messengers were also ranked on credibility for homicide prevention and accident prevention. The results?

Doctors and celebrities were last. That isn’t possible – they can’t both be last. Doctors were ranked 12th out of 14 and celebrities were actually last. “Casual acquaintances” were 13th. This infographic provides a very useful breakdown of the study findings across racial and gender groups. Celebrities and doctors or medical professionals were consistently rated as the least credible messengers for suicide, homicide, and accident prevention.

The most credible sources were, in order, law enforcement, current military personnel, veterans, and the National Rifle Association. Even respondents who did not own a firearm or otherwise have a firearm in their home rated the NRA fourth – well above medical professionals and celebrities.

Celebrities are used – willingly, perhaps as true believers or as fans of the attention – to attract attention to the cause. Doctors and medical professionals are used because they supposedly lend an air of authority and credibility to the issue…except that they do not, as this survey confirms. No one would mistake the paper’s authors for being pro-gun activists. The lead author, Doctor Michael D. Anestis, runs the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University.

NRA’s high ranking as a credible messenger on these issues should carry some weight, but we are often vilified and used as a foil by gun control activists. Their general strategy has been to use the NRA as a boogeyman, an unreasonable obstacle to enacting their “common sense” efforts to strip the gun rights of millions of Americans. Recognizing that the NRA is both a leader in actual gun safety – with millions of Americans trained by NRA-certified instructors – and a beacon of credibility on the issue should cool these efforts, but we won’t hold our breath. 

Instead, let’s discuss another finding from a different survey. This study on “Medical Students’ Knowledge, Attitudes, and Beliefs towards Firearm Ownership and Reporting” was conducted by doctors – medical and PhDs – and a medical student, and was published in the Journal of Education & Social Policy. From the abstract 

“In this study, medical students were queried on their knowledge, attitudes, and actions surrounding firearm ownership using a short survey. Results found that students overwhelmingly believe gun control is an important issue and the majority support gun control. However, less than 40% of students were able to pass a 10-question quiz on current gun laws.”

That is a…generous explanation of the findings. On average, students who took the quiz on gun laws got 5.9 out of 10 questions correct. Only 36% got at least seven of ten questions correct. The medical students – primarily studying at George Washington University (20%), Georgetown University School of Medicine (80%), and Howard University (6%) – know virtually nothing about gun laws.

More than 90% said gun control is important to them and that their attitudes on gun ownership are unlikely to change. Eighty-four percent (84%) said gun control would reduce crime, yet a sizeable majority couldn’t pass a quiz on gun laws. How can they credibly estimate the impact of gun control if they don’t know the existing laws? How can doctors advise patients on firearms or related topics if they can’t pass a simple quiz on gun laws?

To reduce this ignorance of gun laws, the authors advocate to “increase gun safety training and interventions during medical school.”

How will that “gun safety training” be developed? We have no expectations that NRA, or any other pro-gun point of view will be used when future generations of doctors are indoctrinated into the anti-gun agenda, BUT…the doctors who conducted this study used the publicly available resources on the NRA-ILA website

It seems some doctors know where to turn to find a credible source for firearms policy information. 

So do the American people.

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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.