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Wrong Prescription: The Surgeon General’s Lame Old Propaganda and Policies

Monday, July 1, 2024

Wrong Prescription: The Surgeon General’s Lame Old Propaganda and Policies

Wrong Prescription: The Surgeon Generals Lame Old Propaganda and Policies

On June 25, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a gun control advocacy document titled, “Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America.” Hailed by the regime press as some sort of gun control breakthrough, in truth Murthys report is mostly warmed over, in some cases decades-old, gun control talking points and policy positions now with the imprimatur of the nations premier medical scold.

As this report has brought new attention to the public health bureaucracy’s long-running campaign against civilian firearm ownership, it is instructive to examine some of the problems with a public health approach to firearms and some of Murthys factoids and policy prescriptions.

The public health approach to firearms

For many Americans the term “public health” might conjure up notions of scientists in lab coats seeking to halt the spread of communicable diseases by researching and promoting polio vaccination programs or better sanitation. While some of that may still occur, in recent decades public health is better understood as a self-serving leftist political project than a scientific or public-spirited endeavor.

Today, much of the field is concerned with empowering government to dictate an ever-expanding array of individual behavior, including what people can eat, drink, read, think, drive, and how to protect yourself and your family. Much of the project is fundamentally opposed to individual liberty. All the while, were assured that its necessary for an ever-growing amount of taxpayer resources to be devoted to public health “experts” studying and implementing these efforts. It doesnt take a public choice theorist to understand how these incentives work to create a feedback loop.

Public health treats firearms if they are germs transmitting a communicable disease, as opposed to treating their misuse as a criminal justice problem.

These are some of the reasons why so much of the public health “research” done on firearms turns out to be garbage and should be viewed with the upmost skepticism. Another reason is that modeling human behavior is incredibly complicated and fraught with inherent problems that require a level of humility many social “scientists” seem to lack.

To illustrate, in 2022, Reason magazine did an excellent job of exposing almost all “gun violence” social science for the junk science it is by producing an accessible video explainer on the topic.

Drawing on the expertise of statistician and New York University and University of California at San Diego instructor Aaron Brown and a 2020 analysis by the RAND Corporation, the video explained that the vast majority of gun violence research is not conducted in a manner sufficient to offer meaningful conclusions. An article accompanying the video, written by Brown and Reason Producer Justin Monticello, noted,

A 2020 analysis by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, parsed the results of 27,900 research publications on the effectiveness of gun control laws. From this vast body of work, the RAND authors found only 123 studies, or 0.4 percent, that tested the effects rigorously.

Reason and Brown examined the remaining 123 studies from the RAND analysis and offered the following,

We took a look at the significance of the 123 rigorous empirical studies and what they actually say about the efficacy of gun control laws.

The answer: nothing. The 123 studies that met RAND's criteria may have been the best of the 27,900 that were analyzed, but they still had serious statistical defects, such as a lack of controls, too many parameters or hypotheses for the data, undisclosed data, erroneous data, misspecified models, and other problems.

“Children” and firearms

A favorite Biden administration talking point is one that purports, “gun violence is the leading cause of death for children.” Its a favorite of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, the White House Briefing Room, and just about every gun control advocate and anti-gun media outlet you could name. As we have pointed out time and time and time again, however, its misleading. Even the Washington Post’s fact checker grudgingly called the administration out on its behavior.

Murthys shop is a little cuter. The surgeon general report stated, “Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents.” Of course, those are two distinct groups, and for those properly understood to be children this is not the case.

Heres how this tired trick works: Step one, acquire statistics on firearm-related deaths among children ages 0-14. Step two, combine that relatively low number with the far greater number of firearm-related deaths involving juveniles and young adults ages 15-19, or even ages 15-24. Step three, present the resulting data as the shocking number of “children” or “children and teens” or “children and adolescents” (ages 0-19 or 0-24) who are subjected to “gun violence” each day/week/month/year. Step four, use the disingenuous statistic to advocate for pre-determined gun control policies.

Consider the data on those who may be properly defined as children – ages 0-14. For this cohort, firearm-related injuries are not the leading causes of death and are not higher than motor vehicle deaths. The number of motor vehicle deaths in this age group is more than 50-percent higher than firearm-related deaths.

This does shift when examining the cohort ages 15-19. Over 80-percent of the firearm-related deaths that occur in the 0-19 age group happen among the juveniles and young adults ages 15-19. This disparity shouldnt be surprising. The 15-19 cohort is far more often engaged in the type of street crime that can give rise to firearm-related violence and that many jurisdictions have decided to address in a more lenient manner in recent years. The conflation of this age group with young children is even more absurd when one considers that in the vast majority of jurisdictions those 15 and older can be prosecuted as adults.

A ban on commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms and their magazines

Semi-automatic rifles and shotguns are rarely used to commit violent crime. FBI Uniform Crime Reporting breaks down homicides by weapon. In 2022, the FBI reported that there are more than three times as many individuals listed as killed with “knives or cutting instruments,” than with rifles of any kind. The data also showed that rifles were listed as being used in less homicides than “personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.).” More than eight times as many people were killed using “knives or cutting instruments” than shotguns. More than three times as many people were killed using “personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.)” than shotguns.

In 1994, a 10-year federal ban on commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms and their magazines was enacted as part of the Clinton Crime Bill. Faced with the reality that so-called “assault weapons,” are rarely used to commit violent crime, a 1997 Department of Justice-funded study of the Clinton ban determined that “At best, the assault weapons ban can have only a limited effect on total gun murders, because the banned weapons and magazines were never involved in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders.”

A 2004 follow-up Department of Justice-funded study came to a similar conclusion. The study determined that “Aws [assault weapons] and LCMs [large capacity magazines] were used in only a minority of gun crimes prior to the 1994 federal ban,” “relatively few attacks involve more than 10 shots fired,” and “the bans effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” Presented with the overwhelming evidence of the bans inefficacy, Congress did not renew it.

A 2023-updated RAND Corporation study that surveyed the available research on the effects of “assault weapons” and “large” capacity magazine bans. The study found no conclusive evidence that such bans have an effect on violent crime.

In August 2021, the State University of New Yorks Rockefeller Institute for Government published a document titled “Policy Solutions to Address Mass Shootings.” Authored by a team of academics that included Northeastern University Professor of Criminology James Alan Fox, the report was negative about the impact a so-called “assault weapons” ban could have on high-profile shootings.

The report stated,

We found no evidence that assault weapon bans deter these events or reduce fatalities when such events occur. These findings are consistent with previous work…

Adding,

While it might seem logical that banning the sale of assault weapons would reduce the incidence of mass public shootings, this conceptual hypothesis relies on the assumption that if not for the existence of assault weapons, an individual would not carry out a planned mass shooting. We are aware of no evidence to suggest that a potential mass shooter would decide not to follow through with a planned shooting if assault weapons were not available on the retail or secondary markets.

A 2016 article published in Justice Research and Policy examined 23 mass shootings with six or more victims that occurred between 1994 and 2013 and in which the perpetrator used one or more magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. The study determined,

In sum, in nearly all [large capacity magazine]-involved mass shootings, the time it takes to reload a detachable magazine is no greater than the average time between shots that the shooter takes anyway when not reloading. Consequently, there is no affirmative evidence that reloading detachable magazines slows mass shootersrates of fire, and thus no affirmative evidence that the number of victims who could escape the killers due to additional pauses in the shooting is increased by the shooters need to change magazines.

In the District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. Moreover, the court determined that the Constitution protects ownership of arms in “in common use” for lawful purposes.

In 2015, Heller decision author Justice Antonin Scalia reiterated that the Second Amendment and Heller preclude so-called “assault weapons” bans when he signed onto a dissent from the denial of certiorari in Friedman v. Highland Park. In the dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas explained,

Roughly five million Americans own AR-style semiautomatic rifles. The overwhelming majority of citizens who own and use such rifles do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense and target shooting. Under our precedents, that is all that is needed for citizens to have a right under the Second Amendment to keep such weapons.

Even the Supreme Courts left-wing justices appear to concede that the type of semi-automatic firearms President Biden and his administration seek to ban are in fact common. In her dissent in Garland v. Cargill (2024), which overturned ATFs illegal bump stock rule, Justice Sonia Sotomayor described the type of firearms to which a bump stock could be affixed as “commonly available, semiautomatic rifles.” Justice Sotomayor did this specifically in the context of an individual who had attached a bump stock to an AR-15. Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson signed onto the dissent.

In 2022, the Court decided New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. In its opinion, the Court held,

[w]hen the Second Amendments plain text covers an individuals conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nations historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only then may a court conclude that the individuals conduct falls outside the Second Amendments “unqualified command.”

This test would further preclude bans on commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms and their magazines, as the U.S. has no historical tradition of such firearm regulation.

So-called “red flag” gun confiscation orders

As enacted in a handful of states, “red flag” or “extreme risk protection order” (ERPO) laws grant the government the authority to seize a persons firearms ex parte. Despite what U.S. Surgeon General contends in his anti-gun document, these laws typically lack fundamental due process protections. These confiscation orders are issued without notice or hearing or other opportunity for the target of the order to be heard and present evidence. Moreover, this type of legislation typically permits the government to seize firearms based on weak and nebulous standards of evidence.

Aside from due process concerns, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bruen (2022) suggests that “red flag” gun confiscation orders are unconstitutional solely on Second Amendment grounds. Justice Clarence Thomass opinion made clear that in order for a firearm regulation to pass constitutional muster it must fit within the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment right. Specifically, the opinion noted,

[w]hen the Second Amendments plain text covers an individuals conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nations historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only then may a court conclude that the individuals conduct falls outside the Second Amendments “unqualified command.”

That poses a problem for “red flag” law backers, who are eager to stress the “innovative” nature of the gun control measure.

Some of the lazier coverage following the Courts ruling in U.S. v. Rahimi (2024) has suggested that the decision approves of “red flag” gun confiscation schemes. Anyone suggesting this would do well to read the opinion.

Rahimi concerned the validity of a federal statute, 18 USC 922(g)(8), prohibiting firearm possession by those subject to certain domestic violence restraining orders. By statute, for an order to implicate an individuals Second Amendment rights, it must have been “issued after a hearing of which such person received actual notice, and at which such person had an opportunity to participate.” In its ruling, the Court pointed out this statutory safeguard.

As noted, the majority of “red flag” gun confiscation order statutes offer no such due process protection, as they allow for ex parte gun confiscation. The Courts ruling offered no endorsement of these unconstitutional schemes.

An examination of the available research on “The Effects of Extreme Risk Protection Orders” conducted by the RAND Corporation, updated in 2023, found no conclusive evidence that “red flag” laws reduced violent crime, mass shootings, suicide, or unintentional injuries and deaths.

Research on the effectiveness of “red flag” laws has been limited. The studies that have been conducted claim to have found reductions in firearm suicide with mixed evidence for a replacement effect, but the scope of these studies is limited and questions about the quasi-experimental study should be considered before using the findings to develop policy.

Further, “red flag” laws strip a person of a Constitutional right without addressing the allegedly dangerous persons underlying condition or conduct. This leaves the potentially dangerous individual free to continue their course of conduct. If a “red flag” gun confiscation order is used in lieu of a more comprehensive method of addressing the individuals condition, such as civil commitment procedures, the scheme could hurt rather than help an individual in need of services and those around them.

Prohibition by consumer product regulation

Gun control advocates have long sought the power to curtail and prohibit firearms under the guise of consumer product regulation. Therefore, gun owners dont need to speculate about how this partisan bureaucracy would be used to attack gun rights.

Back when the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was founded in 1972, astute gun rights supporters anticipated this type of gun control effort. Lawmakers explicitly excluded firearms from the definition of “consumer products” under the agencys purview.

However, this did not stop the anti-gun lobby from using the CPSC to attack gun owners at the earliest opportunity.

Following its founding, the CPSC was given the authority to administer the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. In 1974, the anti-gun group Committee for Handgun Control petitioned the CPSC to consider a ban on handgun bullets as a hazardous substance under the FHSA.

The CPSC sensibly refused the initial petition. However, the Committee for Handgun Control sued the agency in federal court, which resulted in a ruling requiring the CPSC to consider a ban. The courts reasoning was, despite firearms being explicitly outside CPSCs, that because the FHSA did not exclude ammunition explicitly the agency must examine a ban.

In light of this gun control campaign, and at the urging of the newly-formed NRA-ILA, Congress reiterated its decision to exclude firearms and ammunition from CPSCs authority, adding new language to federal law. The Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvements Act of 1976 provided,

The Consumer Product Safety Commission shall make no ruling or order that restricts the manufacture or sale of firearms, firearms ammunition, or components of firearms ammunition, including black powder or gunpowder for firearms.

This still hasnt stopped disgruntled gun controllers from trying to use the CPSC for their anti-gun agenda.

In the early 1990s, longtime gun control advocate Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) prodded the General Accounting Office to produce a report on how the CPSC could be used to enact gun control. The report recommended that the CPSC be given authority to regulate firearms and for a requirement that firearms be equipped with mandatory “safety” features that many gun owners consciously reject.

It has long been anti-gun group Violence Policy Center’s goal to submit firearms to consumer regulation in order to outright ban them. In its 1994 publication “Cease Fire: A Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Firearms Violence,” the gun control group argued that ATF should be given CPSC-like authority to regulate firearms as consumer products. Which, according to VPC, would result in a ban on commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms it terms “assault weapons” and all handguns.

Criminalizing the private transfer of firearms

“Universal” background checks are “universal” in name only and dont stop criminals from stealing firearms, getting them on the black market, or getting them from straw purchasers. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), 75 percent of criminals in state and federal state prison who had possessed a firearm during their offense acquired the firearm through theft, “Off the street/underground market,” or “from a family member or friend, or as a gift.” Less than one percent got firearms from dealers or non-dealers at gun shows.

On April 8, ATF published a report on the agencys firearm trafficking investigations. The “trafficking channel” for roughly two-thirds of the reported cases (65-percent) were “trafficking in firearms by a straw purchaser or straw purchasing ring,” “trafficking in firearms stolen from an FFL,” or “trafficking in firearms stolen from private persons.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “straw purchasing” is when a person buys a firearm, lying on ATF Form 4473 and undergoing a background check, on behalf of a person prohibited from possessing firearms.

Researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the UC Davis School of Medicine found that comprehensive background checks and prohibitions based on violent misdemeanors “were not associated with changes in firearm suicide or homicide.” The study used a synthetic control design, which builds a synthetic California from a weighted combination of “donor states” to estimate the association between the policies and the rates of firearm homicide and suicide. Ten years after implementation, California and synthetic California had the same firearms-related homicide rate. The comprehensive background check and violent misdemeanor prohibitions had no effect on firearms-related homicide rates. “Enactment was not associated with significant and specific changes in rates of fatal firearms violence.”

Government firearm storage mandates

NRA supports storing firearms in a responsible manner. NRAs gun safety rules include “store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons,” and NRA materials offer suggestions on how a person might accomplish that.

NRA does not support top-down on-size-fits-all government mandates on how to store firearms. As NRAs safety materials explain, “Many factors must be considered when deciding where and how to store guns. A person's particular situation will be a major part of the consideration.”

As the goal of these measures is to make firearm ownership more cumbersome and expensive, rather than improving personal or public safety, backers fail to acknowledge there are often broad laws on the books capable of addressing misuse of firearms around children. States typically have child endangerment or reckless endangerment statutes that are perfectly capable of addressing the behavior gun control advocates purport to target without needlessly constraining responsible gun owners.

The rate of fatal accidents involving firearms was at or near all-time lows for the years 2014 through 2019, and overall fatal accidents involving firearms returned to near this historic low in 2022. In 2019, there were 458 total such accidents - down 2,714 from the record high set in 1903. The rate of such accidents fell 96% between 1904 and 2019. The all-time low for the number of accidents was set in 2018, and the rate matched the record low set in 2014.

The rate of fatal accidents involving firearms among children fell 91% from 1975 to 2019, with the number of such accidents decreasing from 495 to 51. The rate decreased from 0.91 per 100,000 in 1975 to 0.08 in 2019.

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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.