Paper from the National Rifle Association about fi
THE FEDERAL FACTOID FACTORY ON FIREARMS AND VIOLENCE
A Review of CDC Research and Politics
Paul H. Blackman, Ph.D.
Institute for Legislative Action
National Rifle Association
A paper presented at the annual meeting of
the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences
Chicago, Illinois, March 8-12
TABLE 0F CONTENTS
Factoid: Today there is truly an epidemic of firearm-related
violence in the United States.
Factoid: Firearms are now the 8th leading cause of death.
Factoid: Gun-related accidental deaths disproportionately
Factoid: Firearm death rates in the 1980s were the highest
ever for females.
Factoid: Two years of gun deaths here surpass the losses in
Factoid: Gun-related deaths are not limited to the inner
city; the epidemic of childhood violence knows no boundaries
of race, geography, or class.
Factoid: There is a threat to trauma centers, which are being
overcome with the large numbers of victims of violence.
Factoid: There were more firearms- than AIDS-related deaths
in the 1980s.
Factoid: Semi-automatic firearms are possessed only with the
intent to harm people; no person needs a semi-automatic
firearm for hunting or target shooting.
Factoid: Firearms are rapidly overcoming motor vehicles as a
public health issue. And we should apply the same efforts to
overcome gun-related deaths as we did with motor vehicles.
Factoid: A gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used
to kill oneself, a family member, or a friend than a criminal.
Factoid: The difference in Seattle and Vancouver homicide
rates is totally explained by there being five times more gun-
related homicides in the less restrictive American city, so
the Canadian gun law is saving lives.
Factoid: Restrictive gun laws explain why Vancouver has a
lower youth suicide rate than Seattle.
Factoid: Suicide is five times more likely to occur in a home
with a gun.
Factoid: A gun in the home increases the chance of homicide
by three to one, and does not offer protection from homicide.
Factoid: Family and intimate assaults are 12 times more
likely to result in death if a firearm is involved than
domestic assaults where a firearm is not involved.
Factoid: When a woman kills someone with a gun, it is five
times more likely to be loved one than stranger.
Factoid: The actual medical costs of treating gunshot wounds
is $4 billion, 86% of which is paid for by tax dollars, with
lifetime costs of $14-20(-40) billion.
Factoid: The restrictive licensing law in the District of
Columbia saved about 47 lives per year, with firearm-related
deaths down in the city but not in the surrounding areas.
Factoids Regarding "Children"
Factoid: Firearms education may increase the risk of gun-
Factoid: There is an epidemic of children killing children
Factoid: The availability of handguns to urban high school
students is pervasive and it is not limited to high-risk
Factoid: Having a gun in the home increases the risk of
adolescent suicide 75 fold.
Factoid: Eleven (or 12) percent of children who die are shot
Factoid: More teenagers now die from firearms than from all
natural causes put together.
Factoid: A large and increasing number of high school
students are taking guns to school.
Factoid: Latchkey children threatened by access to guns.
"The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has
proven that violence is a public health problem, and cannot escape
looking at the role of firearms (noticing also ethnic variations),
and is developing a multi-faceted approach toward improving data
collection and reducing the amount of violence." (Rosenberg et al.,
1992) This from a CDC editorial, indicates the CDC's view that it
has proven violence to be a public health problem by constantly
stating that it is, and that public health approaches can reduce
that problem. By its very nature, however, the public health
approach is only valid if there is a problem preventable or curable
using public health approaches. While the CDC believes it has
proven firearms and violence to be public health problems, it has
merely repeated the statement until few consider it worth
Although a few M.D.s and M.P.H.s have considered a public-
health approach to the study of violence (e.g., Browning, 1976),
and others have done research without federal assistance, the real
impetus toward public health studies began between 1977 and 1979
when the Centers for Disease Control -- now the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention -- and others worked to prepare the Surgeon
General's report Healthy People (PHS[Public Health Service], 1979a,
1979b), which included a series of recommendations for improving
the health of the American people especially setting preliminary
1990 goals, and including efforts to reduce violence. By the mid-
1980s, the violence especially aimed at was suicide among the
young, aged 15-24, and homicide among young black males (Smith et
al., 1986:269). Since then, youth suicide has been fairly stable,
and young black male homicide rates have skyrocketed, particularly
firearm-related homicides. (Fingerhut, 1993)
The effort to treat violence as a public health issue was to
be centered in the PHS's Centers for Disease Control, where the
Center for Health Promotion and Education was established in 1981,
followed by the Violence Epidemiology Branch in 1983, and finally
reorganized in 1986 into the Division of Injury Epidemiology and
Control in the CDC's Center for Environmental Health. In the early
1990s, the CDC demonstrated its commitment to the project, adding
a new center, the National Center for Injury Prevention and
Control, with Mark Rosenberg as its first director, to treat
firearms and other violence epidemiologically.
The epidemiological approach merely requires massive amounts
of data, allowing various "risk factors" to be determined, which
may be associated with a particular "disease." The risk factors
are simply factors associated with an increased incidence of a
particular problem, not necessarily the cause of the problem. A
risk factor is something with a higher association than is the
norm. With regard to violence, the question would be whether
firearms are more associated with violence, or owned more commonly
by victims or perpetrators of violence, than is the norm in society
-- or in a particular portion of society. Although firearms are
generally involved in about 30% of reported violent crime (FBI,
1992 and 1993), and about 13% of National Crime Survey crime (Rand,
1990), firearms are generally found in nearly half of U.S.
households and handguns in about 20-25% of households. (Kleck,
1991:51-52) As a risk factor for violence, more data would be
needed -- particularly addressing particular segments in society.
Little is shown simply by finding something to be a risk
factor, since a risk factor is merely a thing or condition more apt
to be present where a particular ailment occurs than in society as
a whole, and is not necessarily a cause of morbidity or mortality.
The risk factor need not necessarily be dealt with; indeed,
attempting to deal with some risk factors may mislead and prevent
proper medical treatment. Symptoms, after all, are risk factors,
and, while some symptoms should be treated, treating others may
mask discovery of the underlying ailment and prevent proper
treatment. To use a real medical example, to the extent
hypertension is an indication of another problem, lowering blood
pressure may create the false impression that the real problem has
been solved and prevent seeking the true cause and attempting to
cure it. (Moore, 1990) To the extent firearms may be a risk factor
in some violence, gun laws may simply be attempts to mask the
symptom without treating the actual cause of the violence.
Are gun-owning households more at risk for injury than other
households, with other factors controlled for? Is gun ownership --
or handgun ownership -- only a risk factor among certain categories
of persons? In medical studies, after all, not everyone is equally
at risk from the same substance (salt, for example), nor are
medications necessarily equally beneficial. What may be
beneficial for the middle-aged white males used for most medical
research may prove counterindicated for females with the same
apparent condition. (Moore, 1990) Gun ownership without injury
would also have to be studied before one could determine firearms
were a "risk factor," just as hypertension without strokes or heart
disease, or salt without hypertension, would have to be studied
before determining whether hypertension was a risk factor for
strokes or salt a risk factor for hypertension. A legitimate
epidemiological approach would be concerned with both trends and
with factors associated both with higher and lower levels of death.
The CDC approach to firearms, however, misses all of those
factors for a number of reasons. First, by often combining the
types of firearm-related deaths -- suicides, homicides, and
accidents -- explanatory factors are confused. The different death
rates among ethnic groups are minimized by combining traditionally
high elderly-white male suicide rates with high young-black male
homicide rates. Second, all factors except firearms are simply
ignored, or presumed comparable in the groups studied -- either
expressly (Sloan et al., 1988) or implicitly. Third, in looking at
firearms, there is no examination of those not "afflicted." CDC
would have to look both at the healthy and the unhealthy to find
the differences between the two. They show no interest in the
Instead, only misuse is addressed, with the CDC and its
leading spokesmen, Mark Rosenberg and James Mercy, believing that
because they can demonstrate that firearms are involved in some
morbidity and mortality, the epidemiological approach proves that
any and all proposals will be effective in solving the endemic
problem of violence in America, which they mislabel an "epidemic."
Others believe they have proven harm merely by showing access
to a firearm, even if there is no mortality, morbidity, or other
harm from such access. (Weil and Hemenway, 1992; Callahan and
Rivara, 1992) Two authors believed they had demonstrated a problem
requiring legislative and educational correction based not on harm
from "latchkey" children's access to firearms -- as might be
demonstrated by showing disproportionate amounts of accidental
deaths or gun-related delinquency from such children -- nor even
from proof of actual access to firearms by those children, but by
demonstrating that guns were often present in the homes of
"latchkey" children. (Lee and Sacks, 1990)
From proving that firearms exist and are sometimes misused,
the CDC regularly presumes that any and all restrictions on
firearms -- self- or government-imposed -- would benefit
individuals and society. To enhance that conclusion, the CDC
produces research showing bad things associated with firearms,
based on a fairly open anti-gun bias (Blackman, 1990:2-4): "The
Public Health Service [parent agency of the CDC] has targeted
violence as a priority concern....There is a separate objective to
reduce the number of handguns in private ownership...." (Fingerhut
and Kleinman, 1989:6)
Much of the research and rhetoric produced for or by the CDC
has been presented to the public in such a way as to allow
simplistic conclusions of the findings. Despite occasional claims
that the goal is science (Mercy and Houk, 1988), the rhetoric makes
it clear the goal is to emotionalize the issues of firearms and
violence. Rosenberg expresses fear that the numbers will "lose
their emotional impact" (Rosenberg, 1993:3).
Although some of the more studies are replete with warnings
that their results apply only to a particular place and time,
tentative conclusions are accepted by authors, the CDC, and the
news media as definitive. Such conclusions are generally presented
in the form of an easy-to-remember factoid -- a fact-like
statement, based upon the data presented, but without meaning for
various reasons. The CDC does not want the news media or the
general public to focus on any acknowledged weaknesses or
limitations in the studies, but to accept the tentative conclusions
Some of the factoids are presented more as rhetoric than as
science. There is some irony in this, since two CDC spokesmen most
dedicated to rhetoric are also ones who began encouraging
Kellermann's research with an editorial "call for science." (Mercy
and Houk, 1988) The rhetorical factoids, too, generally are based
upon some actual data, distorted for rather unscientific purposes.
Factoid: Today there is truly an epidemic of firearm-related
violence in the United States.
Violence has been endemic to the United States since its
settlement by Europeans. And most of the dramatic increases in
firearms misuse since World War II occurred prior to 1981. Since
that time, for most age groups, trends have varied depending upon
whether the cause of death is homicide, suicide, or accident. For
suicide, most of the increase in recent decades occurred while the
percentage of households owning firearms, or handguns, remained
stable; there was no increase in homicide or suicide following the
rise in household ownership of handguns. In fact, the recent
increase in homicide came at a time when the firearms market was in
the doldrums. More significantly, during the 1980s, for most age,
ethnic, and gender groups, firearms-related deaths declined --
including deaths among women and domestic homicides, even as there
were widespread reports of gun manufacturers targeting women. Most
of the recent increase in youth suicide has been less than that in
Europe, and most of the increase in homicide has been among persons
with traditionally the lowest levels of gun ownership and facing
the most restrictive gun laws: young, inner-city blacks and
Data from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics
(NCHS) over recent years show neither an epidemic, nor, since the
gun market has been in a slump, any relationship between firearm-
related deaths and firearm availability. Most firearms-related
deaths declined during the early years of the 1980s, with major
changes between 1980 and 1990 based on increases in the later years
of the decade. Non-gun homicide and suicide among white males aged
25-34 rose in the 1980s, and for black men and women aged 25-44.
Firearm-related homicides and suicides for elderly white males have
risen, as have gun-related homicides for older white women,
presumably murder-suicides following declining health. Both gun
and non-gun homicides have declined for black males over the age of
44, as have firearms-related deaths in general for black women over
44. And gun-related suicides among white women have trended down
over the past two decades. Non-gun homicide and suicide rose for
white women, particularly younger ones, during the 1970s, but then
declined. But non-gun suicides for middle-aged blacks increased
during the 1980s. While most gun-related death rates rose during
the 1970s and then declined, gun-related suicide for black males
has continued to rise.
Perhaps most strikingly, for younger black males, in addition
to increases in gun-related homicides have been increases defying
the general downward trend in firearms-related accidental deaths,
and motor vehicle deaths since 1982. Indeed, black males in most
age groups have increasingly been victims of motor vehicle
accidents. Overall, the only consistent trend has been for
relatively young blacks, particularly males, and since the mid-
1980s. Increases during the 1970s were followed by declines first.
And, for most age, race, and sex groupings, the peak occurred in
1979-81, not in the 1990s.
There is some irony in this. Since specific congressional
authorization for the CDC to emphasize efforts to curtail violent
deaths among "children," firearm-related violence among teenagers
and young adults, among blacks and Hispanics, has increased
Factoid: Firearms are now the 8th leading cause of death.
Firearms-related deaths account for slightly under 2% of
American deaths, and only sound like an "epidemic" when listed as
the eighth leading "cause." The seemingly high ranking is
generally achieved by combining all four types of gun-related
deaths -- homicides, suicides, accidents, and undetermined
motivation -- while keeping multiple types of other "causes" (from
the International Classification of Diseases) separated. This
mathematical sleight-of-hand exaggerates the significance of
firearms, and invites confusion as the rhetoric switches from topic
to topic. The CDC has asserted that firearms and, in the same
year, that suicide are the eighth leading "cause" of death.
(Cotton, 1992; Kellermann et al., 1992) Once causes of death are
separated out, and merged with different categories of death, a
certain amount of consistency and certainty in discussion is lost.
The official causes of death separate homicide and suicide from
unintentional injuries (World Health Organization, 1977). But
public health professionals also like to combine various "causes"
in different ways, which will alter the rank-order. When tobacco
becomes a "cause" of death, it outranks cancer (since many
malignant neoplasms must be switched from one category to another);
if alcohol is a "cause" of death, the rank-ordering changes in
other ways. The medical profession would presumably be less
pleased with combining unintentional deaths due to medical mistakes
into a new cause of death (Kleck, 1991:43), although it has also
been suggested that hospital-caused blood infections could
justifiably be listed as a new "cause" of death, probably competing
with suicide for, now, ninth place. (Wenzel, 1988)
A more consistent and honest approach would be to find various
external causes of both injury- and disease-related deaths and
consistently adjust other deaths. If one attempts to find the
causes of death -- whether from injury or disease -- and adjust the
remaining non-externally caused deaths accordingly, firearms cease
to be eighth. Thus, deaths from cancer or heart disease credited
to such "actual causes" as diet/inactivity, alcohol, or tobacco,
would still rank fairly high, but removing strokes credited to
tobacco, diet/inactivity, or alcohol might cause remaining strokes
might fall to fifth place, or even lower. The researchers who
tried that approach (McGinnis and Foege, 1993), however, were not
entirely honest. Firearms would probably have ranked ninth or
tenth using that approach, but the authors either double-counted
some homicides and suicides as both firearm- and alcohol-related
or, more likely, counted all gun-related homicides and suicides as
"caused" by firearms, and most non-gun-related homicides and
suicides as "caused" by alcohol. Of alcohol-related suicides and
homicides involving firearms were put into the alcohol category,
firearms would probably fall to tenth or 11th place, following
deaths caused by "sexual behavior" -- where CDC rhetoric has been
silent regarding possible government-imposed bans or other
In other cases, firearms have been named as the third, fourth,
fifth, or sixth leading cause of accidental death among a
particular age group, or firearms-related deaths or homicides as
higher on the "cause of death" chart for particular age groups.
For accidents, as Kleck has repeatedly pointed out, while the
statement may be true, the actual numbers -- particularly estimates
for handguns as a portion of the firearm-related accidental deaths
-- are fairly small, and declining. And the actual accidents may
be still fewer, with child-abuse homicides disguised as firearm-
related accidents. The three leading causes of accidental deaths
among children -- motor vehicles, drowning, and fires -- are far
ahead of firearms. (Kleck, 1991; U.S. House of Representatives,
1989:50-69; NSC, 1992:22) Occasionally, some distortion is made by
ignoring that a rank has been stable for years and nevertheless
saying that firearms have "become" the nth leading cause.
Once causes of death are revised by advocates and researchers,
different groupings and divisions can be made, some of which may be
useful in evaluating trends and treatments, and some of which are
largely rhetorical. Most scholars will separate out causes of
accidental death into motor vehicle and other; but motor vehicle
deaths are further capable of being broken down into categories by
victim -- passenger, bicyclist, pedestrian, and the like. At that
point, bicycle accidents tend to supersede firearm accidents as a
cause of death among children, thus possibly changing some rank-
ordering for some age groups. (Baker and Waller, 1989)
Alternatively, cancers and heart diseases could be broken down into
sub-categories (lungs, digestive system), some of which would be
ahead of "firearms," suicides, and homicides. (NCHS, 1991; CDC,
The key flaw in combining different types of firearm-related
deaths into one "cause" is that the public health approach presumes
the "disease" to be preventable or curable. Finding a way to curb
homicide, whether involving firearms or other weapons, is more
likely to be productive than finding a way to curb firearm-related
deaths, whether other-directed (homicide), inner-directed
(suicide), or accidental. The combination is thus misleading to
researchers seriously attempting a public health approach to
Factoid: Gun-related accidental deaths disproportionately affect
youth. (CDC, 1992a)
Firearms-related accidents, like accidents in general,
disproportionately affect geriatric Americans followed by teenagers
and young adults. The overall rate for children 0-14, the rate,
0.5 per 100,000 population, is not much different from the overall
rate of 0.6. (NSC, 1992; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992:18) For
young children, aged 0-9, the rate is half the national rate.
Firearm-related accidents are declining more rapidly than
other types of accidents -- motor vehicle, other public accidents,
home accidents. The assumption that gun accidents involving
children occur with loaded firearms in the home more than with
unloaded guns or elsewhere is true, but not a contribution to
Overall, bicycle accidents kill more children under the age of
15 than do firearms-related accidents. But, whereas arguments
against firearms focus on what occurs in the privacy of the home,
where regulation might be difficult or impossible to enforce,
efforts to curb bicycle accidents would be aimed at public
activities in public places. Unlike firearms, which are generally
used by adults, children's bicycles are rarely used by anyone but
children; and regulation of them would be aimed at public activity.
Yet efforts to curb bicycle accidents among children by banning
children's bicycles are rarely, if ever, heard, even among CDC
Factoid: Firearm death rates in the 1980s were the highest ever
for females. (Cotton, 1992)
In order to associate an increase in handgun availability to
women with an increase in gun-related deaths by women, the CDC's
Mercy and Rosenberg, and the CDC-funded Garen Wintemute simply
lied. Accompanying a box saying: "The rate of firearm-related
deaths among women is increasing," Dr. Wintemute notes that "Gun
sales plummeted in the 1980s, and the gun companies went looking
for new markets. They found the same markets that the tobacco
industry did in the 1950s -- overseas markets and women."
(Wintemute, 1991) And Mercy noted that "Firearm death rates in the
1980s were ...the highest ever for females and teenage and young
adult males." (Cotton, 1992) And "Firearm mortality rates for
women...have been higher during the 1980s than at any time
previously." (Rosenberg and Mercy, 1991:5) The problem is that
the source for the statement regarding a peak in women's gun-
related death rates was an article which stopped collecting data in
1982, and which demonstrated that firearm-related deaths among
women peaked in the early-mid 1970s, and that gun-related death
rates for women declined irregularly after that. (Wintemute, 1987)
During the 1980s, the firearm-related death rate for women fell.
(NCHS, 1991) Trends are more convincingly associated with other
factors trending in the same direction at some reasonably
Factoid: Two years of gun deaths here surpass the losses in
This is one of the CDC's James Mercy's favorite factoids as he
eschews science for rhetoric. It neglects the fact that America's
mission was ancillary, and the vast majority of casualties were
Vietnamese, so that their missing-in-action totals about five or
six times our battlefield death total. For scientists, it ignores
the key element of rates per 100,000. America's presence in
Vietnam rarely exceeded 600,000, with an annual death rate in
excess of 500. America's population hovers around 250,000,000.5
A similar recent comparison is of the number of gun-related
deaths, or homicides, in a particular city or state with the number
of American dead in the Gulf War -- neglecting the fact that over
99.8% of the war dead were not Americans. Another way of looking
at the comparison of crime with war would note that the firearm-
related homicide rate of inner-city black teenagers -- among the
highest rates recorded for subgroups in America at 144 per 100,000
(Fingerhut et al., 1992) -- is only about one-twentieth the
battlefield death rate of French men of fighting age during World
War I. (Johnson, 1985:140-141)
Factoid: Gun-related deaths are not limited to the inner city;
the epidemic of childhood violence knows no boundaries of race,
geography, or class. (Cotton, 1992; Henkoff, 1992)
Violence is endemic in America, but it is epidemic only among
young blacks and Hispanics. For most other age- and ethnic-groups,
gunshot wounds are stable or declining. For example, a recent
study of the change in gun-related homicide in Philadelphia between
1985 and 1990 found 100% of the increase due to deaths among
minority groups; among non-Hispanic whites, the number killed
actually declined. (McGonigal, et al., 1993)
The gun-related homicide rate among males 15-19 years of age
varies dramatically based upon race and location. Among big-city
blacks, the rate was about 144 per 100,000; among rural blacks, the
rate was 89% lower, at 15. In central cities, the white rate was
about 21 (Fingerhut et al., 1992), and an analysis of some of the
FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports, supported by limited data on
15-34 year olds from the CDC (Fingerhut, et al., 1994) would
suggest this means the non-Hispanic white rate was probably in the
10-14 range. For the most part, gun-related violence is a growing
problem among young urban black and Hispanic males. For girls,
women, and men over the age of 30, gun-related violence was stable
or decreasing in the 1980s. (Fingerhut and Kleinman, 1989;
Fingerhut et al., 1991; Hammett et al., 1992) Even one of the
articles describing the problem as "epidemic" noted that the 50%
increase in mortality of late in the "urban pediatric population"
occurred with no change or a slight decline in the suburban and
national pediatric populations. (Ropp et al., 1992)
To support the idea that everyone should be concerned about
homicide, the CDC pretends that homicide threatens everyone. The
statements are true only in the sense that dramatically lower
levels of violence are not the equivalent of no violence at all in
small towns, suburban, and rural areas. One might as well suggest
that private airplane crashes can threaten anyone -- but available
evidence suggests that the rate for persons on board private
airplanes is vastly higher than for those on the ground or in
commercial airliners. Homicide, and particularly escalating
homicide rates, largely, are limited to the inner city, and,
indeed, to low-income minorities within inner cities. (Fingerhut
et al., 1992)
A recent study of the victims of gun-related homicides in
Philadelphia found that "84% of victims in 1990 had antemortem drug
use or criminal history." (McGonigal et al., 1993) Even accident
victims are apt to involve persons unusually aggressive, and from
the underclass, persons with criminal records, rather than ordinary
citizens. (Kleck, 1991:285-287)
Factoid: There is a threat to trauma centers, which are being
overcome with the large numbers of victims of violence. (Organ,
The threat to trauma centers is that surgeons are reluctant to
work in them. Surgery residents complain that blunt trauma (motor
vehicle accidents) requires too much non-operative care, and of
"the unsavory type of patients encountered with most penetrating
trauma injuries" (knife and gunshot wounds). Other surgeons
believe treating trauma victims "would have a negative impact on
their practice," presumably because those unsavory characters may
come to their offices for post-emergency-room care. (Organ, 1992)
Not noted is that there is increasing reluctance of surgeons to
treat trauma victims since the combination of drug use with lots of
blood is an invitation to contamination and exposure to HIV. The
significance of these facts is that they belie the notion that the
average victim of gunshot wounds is just an ordinary person, that
we are all victims. The victims are largely unsavory persons; some
are just poor; many are just unsavory. Again, this lends support
to the proposition that victims of violence are frequently not
innocent bystanders but are involved in lives of violence. One
recent study, for example, found that 71% of children and
adolescents injured in drive-by shootings "were documented members
of violent street gangs." (Hutson et al. 1994:325)
Factoid: There were more firearms-than AIDS-related deaths in the
1980s. (Cotton, 1991)
This, another of the CDC's James Mercy's favorite statistics,
includes years before which AIDS existed and began its epidemic
growth. AIDS now exceeds suicide and homicide as a cause of death
in the U.S. The CDC rhetorically notes that firearms, or homicides
and suicides, exceed natural causes as a cause of death for
adolescents and youth adults -- something to be expected since,
once children escape the killers of infancy and childhood, external
causes remain the leading expected cause of death until ailments of
middle age come on. In fact, the real change over the past decade
has not been that young adults are not killed by natural causes,
but that persons aged 25-44 increasingly are, by AIDS.
Factoid: Semi-automatic firearms are possessed only with the
intent to harm people; no person needs a semi-automatic firearm for
hunting or target shooting.6 (Houk, 1991)
It would be interesting to learn how effectively the CDC's
Vernon Houk thinks America's international athletes could prepare
for competition with revolvers or single-shot pistols, since semi-
automatic firearms are required for some international target
shooting competitions. It is also unclear why Houk believes
international competitive shooters own their firearms only to harm
With rifles of any description involved in 3% of homicides
(down from 5% in 1980), it is hard to explain the view that while
handguns "account for three-fourths of all gun-related
homicides,...recent increases in gang warfare and the adoption of
assault weapons by drug traffickers may create different patterns
of firearms deaths." (Rice, et al., 1989:23) There is simply no
basis for the CDC's assertion. (Morgan, 1990: 151-54)
And, while the ammunition feeding-device capacity may be
larger for many semi-automatics than for revolvers, that is
irrelevant for almost all crimes. Studies of shootouts involving
criminals and law enforcement in New York City indicate that
criminals average fewer than three shots. A study of shootings in
Washington, D.C., while indicating more gunshot wounds per victim
later in the 1980s than earlier, nonetheless report that 92% were
shot fewer than five times, a number less than ordinary revolver
capacity. (Webster et al., 1992a) More recently, a study of
firearm-related homicides in Philadelphia indicated that despite a
sharp rise in the number of shots fired, whether revolvers or semi-
automatics were used, between 1985 and 1990, there were an average
of 2.1 shots fired per revolver and 2.7 per semi-automatic. None
of the guns used were so-called "assault weapons." (McGonigal et
al., 1993) And a study, limited to children through the age of 17,
of drive-by shootings incidents in Los Angeles -- where the alleged
use of so-called "assault weapons" in drive-by shootings first
achieved media attention, and where military-style semi-automatics
make up a higher percentage of alleged crime guns (3%) than in most
cities which have reported hard data -- found that in only one of
583 drive-by shootings was use of an assault weapon documented,
with 79% of injuries involving a single gunshot wound.7 (Hutson et
Military-looking semi-automatics are rarely involved in crime.
Kleck (1992), Morgan and Kopel (1991), and others indicate
involvement in perhaps half of one percent to one percent of
violent crime or homicide. The recent study of 469 firearm-related
homicides in Philadelphia in 1985 and 1990 (McGonigal et al., 1993)
noted: "Assault or military-style rifles were not used in either
The only "study" showing significant involvement was the Cox
Newspapers report which falsely asserted there were only about one
million "assault weapons" privately owned (Cox Newspapers, 1989:1)
-- while contradictorily noting that there were 1.5 million
privately owned M1s, which they identified as "assault weapons"
(Cox Newspapers, 1989:10). At the time, the Smithsonian
Institution's firearms expert, Edward Ezell, was testifying to
Congress that there were 3-3.5 million military-style semi-
automatic rifles, plus an unspecified number of handguns. The Cox
claims were based on BATF tracing dataa disingenuous effort, since
the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted that the tracing
system was designed "to identify the ownership path of individual
firearms. It was not designed to collect statistics....the
firearms selected for tracing do not constitute a random sample and
cannot be considered representative of the larger universe of all
firearms used by criminals, or of any subset of that universe."
(Bea, 1992:65) For example, at a time when Los Angeles Police
Officer Jimmy Trahin was testifying before a congressional
subcommittee (May 5, 1989) that military-style semi-automatics
accounted for 3% of the crime guns in custody, the Cox study was
reporting that 19% of crime guns traced by BATF from Los Angeles
were "assault weapons." (Cox Newspapers, 1989:4)
Factoid: Firearms are rapidly overcoming motor vehicles as a
public health issue. And we should apply the same efforts to
overcome gun-related deaths as we did with motor vehicles. (CDC,
1994; Koop and Lundberg, 1992)
According to Koop and Lundberg, citing earlier CDC studies
(CDC, 1992c), firearms should be treated like motor vehicles, with
age limits, registration, and licensing, because there was a
decline in motor vehicle deaths reported between 1970 and 1990.
But the CDC study regarding motor vehicle deaths cited seven
factors influencing that decline, including redesign of cars, of
roads, seat-belt laws, focus on drunk driving, and child
restraints, but, understandably, it did not mention registration or
licensing, since most registration and licensing was enacted
between the world wars.
The self-laudatory CDC also imagines that the motor vehicle
accidental death decline is their doing: "Just as we were able to
save countless lives from motor vehicles without banning cars, we
can save many lives from firearm injuries without a total ban on
firearms." Thus, the CDC's Vernon Houk (1991) uses motor vehicle
regulation as an example for firearms, noting they aren't banned,
but that there are regulations and licensing, cars and highways are
made safer, driver behavior is strictly regulated and enforced. As
a result, according to Houk, we now save 25,000 lives relative to
1980 and even greater "when compared with three decades ago when we
had about 380,000 deaths per year."8
Similarly, the more recent study claims in its title to be
examining "Effectiveness in Disease and Injury Prevention,"
pretending that the decline in motor-vehicle-related accidental
deaths during the period covered (1968-91) is due to "the
multifaceted, science-based approach to reduce mortality from
motor-vehicle crashes [which] have included public information
programs, promotion of behavioral change, changes in legislation
and regulations, and advances in engineering and technology."
Their claim is that this resulted in safer driving practices, safer
vehicles, safer roads, and improved medical services. They credit
the drop in motor-vehicle accidents to these changes which
developed "[s]ince 1966, when the federal government identified
highway safety as a major goal." Unfortunately, while the motor-
vehicle accidental death rate did decline 37% between 1968 and
1991, that decline trailed all other major types of accidental
deaths: non-motor vehicle public deaths declined 38%, home
accidents 41%, work accidents 49%, and firearm-related accidents
50%. Only improved medical services cover all types of accidents.
Further, the comparison is dishonest in that it compares accidental
deaths involving motor vehicles to firearm related deaths, over 95%
of which are intentional. There is no reason to believe that
approaches geared toward reducing accidents are applicable to
Another problem with the misleading comparison, in view of the
suggestion that firearms will soon exceed motor vehicles as a
public health problem, is that, although reported in something
called the "morbidity and mortality weekly report," the only
concern is with mortality (death) rather than morbidity (injury).
There is a misleading implication that the harm to society
associated with the misuse of firearms is closing in on the harm
associated with motor vehicle misuse. In fact, there are over two-
million disabling injuries associated with motor vehicles annually
-- with medical costs exceeding $20-billion (National Safety
Council, 1993:1-2) -- and only 65-135,000 serious or disabling
injuries involving firearms (Martin et al., 1988; Kleck, 1991:62),
with medical costs approximating $1.4-billion (Max and Rice,
1993)(about one-fifth of one percent of the nation's annual
expenditures on medical care -- U.S. Bureau of the Census,
At least the focus of federal attention on motor-vehicle
deaths after 1966 was associated with declines in motor-vehicle
deaths from the period beginning two years later. The same cannot
be said for CDC's activities on the issue of firearms. On the
other hand, Congress encouraged the CDC to be concerned with
firearms-related deaths, particularly among the young, in 1986, and
precisely two years later is when the dramatic rise in firearm-
related deaths -- particularly among the young -- began. (CDC,
Ironically, the opening date used for the CDC comparison of
motor-vehicle and firearms-related deaths is 1968, the year the
federal government first imposed major federal restrictions on
firearms, largely aimed at legally isolating the states so that
they could enforce their own gun laws despite more lenient laws in
other states. Whatever legislative effects might be on motor
vehicle accidents, the CDC's selection of an opening year fails to
inspire confidence in regulation of firearms as a way to curb
Curiously, the CDC recommends legislative efforts as one way
to curb gun-related deaths even though their state-by-state look at
relative firearm- and motor-vehicle-related death rates (CDC,
1994:39-40) show that the states where firearm-related deaths equal
or exceed motor-vehicle-related deaths are split between highly
restrictive and generally non-restrictive jurisdictions, the states
where motor-vehicle-related deaths exceed firearm-related deaths by
10% or less are similarly split, but the states where motor-
vehicle-related deaths exceed firearm-related deaths by over 10%
are overwhelmingly non-restrictive with regard to the acquisition
and possession of firearms. Indeed, 14 of the 17 states with
lenient carry laws (82%) are among the 34 states (67%) where motor-
vehicle deaths still well exceed firearm-related deaths.9
Having compared intentional firearm-related deaths to
unintentional motor-vehicle deaths, the legislative and
technological changes recommended are largely aimed at the
accidental firearms fatalities which constitute under 5% of gun-
related deaths, including "regulating the storage, transport, and
use of firearms" and modifying "firearms and ammunition to render
them less lethal (e.g., a requirement for childproof safety devices
[i.e., trigger locks] and loading indicators" -- a recommendation
followed by a citation to a GAO (1991) study expressly dealing with
accidental deaths among young children.
Factoid: A gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used to
kill oneself, a family member, or a friend than a criminal.
(Kellermann and Reay, 1986a)
This study looked at firearm-related deaths in the home in
King County (Seattle), Washington. It was limited to fatalities in
the home involving a firearm which belonged in the home, and added
together the total number of suicides, accidents, and criminal
homicides. It compared that misleading total to the number of
fatal justifiable and self-defense shootings, coming up with a 43-
to-1 ratio. Sometimes, the ratio given is 18-to-1, in which case
it is residents killed in gun-related non-suicides compared to
strangers shot. Although this study was not funded by the CDC, it
served as the basis for Kellermann's establishing his anti-gun bona
fides with the CDC, leading to numerous research grants thereafter.
In the popular media, it is often forgotten that suicides accounted
for 37 of every 43 shooting deaths in the home. For example, "A
firearm in the home is 43 times more likely to cause the death of
a family member or a friend than a criminal." (USA Today, February
16, 1994, p. 12A)
The most egregious flaw in the study is that it ignores non-
fatal protective uses of guns, which number over two million per
year and thus exceed criminal misuses (plus suicides and accidents)
by a 2.5- or 3-to-one margin. (Kleck, 1994) Although the authors
originally warned that the study was of a single non-representative
county, and noted that non-fatal protective uses were ignored, they
have freely used the 43 as if it were definitive and national. As
has been noted by others, their key approach was that, since the
data which would test the hypothesis about the net risk-benefit of
firearms for protection were not available, they would use data
which was available. Of course, that meant ignoring the fact that
some protective-use data were available, but were dismissed as
irrelevant or imprecise.
Kellermann and Reay (1986a:1557) concluded that "The
advisability of keeping firearms in the home for protection must be
questioned," even though "our files rarely identified why the
firearm involved had been kept in the home. We cannot determine,
therefore, whether guns kept for protection were more or less
hazardous than guns kept for other reasons" (1986a:1559). They
assumed protection based on surveys showing that three-fourths cite
protection as one reason for having a gun, although the same
surveys cite protection as the primary reason only one-quarter of
the time, although protection is more commonly the reason for gun
ownership in a metropolitan area like the one studied. The actual
reason for initial acquisition or continued ownership of firearms
involved in injuries remains open to research.
And Kellermann and Reay (1986b), responding to criticism that
their data counted only deaths to conclude that firearms were less
often used for protection than misused, and attempting to show that
surveys supported their conclusion, wrote: "In 1978, both the
National Rifle Association and the National [sic] Center for the
Study and Prevention of Handgun Violence sponsored door-to-door
surveys. Both included questions regarding firearms and violence
in the home....Taken together, these two polls suggest that guns
kept in homes are involved in unintentional deaths or injuries at
least as often as they are fired in self-defense." In fact, the
NRA-sponsored survey, while it asked about protective uses of
firearms, and whether the firearm was fired, did not ask about the
location of the incident, and did not ask any questions about
accidents. The survey commissioned by the Center did not ask
whether protective uses of guns involved their being fired, nor
where accidents occurred, although it did ask where protective
incidents occurred (the majority occurred outside the home). The
Center's protective-use questions were asked only of persons who,
at the time of the survey, owned handguns for protection. The
Kellermann and Reay conclusion is refuted by Kleck (1988). The
controversial study was followed by grants to Kellermann and his
associates, with each of the following studies deliberately
distorted to produce anti-gun factoids.
Factoid: The difference in Seattle and Vancouver homicide rates is
totally explained by there being five times more gun-related
homicides in the less restrictive American city, so the Canadian
gun law is saving lives. (Sloan, et al., 1988)
This study, one of a number where the lead or one of the
leading authors was Arthur Kellermann, compared homicide in
Vancouver, British Columbia, with homicide in Seattle. The authors
claimed the difference in handgun-related homicide totally
explained Seattle's higher homicide rate. In fact, for the non-
Hispanic Caucasians who account for over three-fourths of each
city's population, the homicide rates were virtually identical (6.2
for Seattle and 6.4 -- insignificantly higher -- for Vancouver).
The difference was very high homicide rates for Seattle Hispanics
and blacks, who are few in Vancouver, and a high homicide rate
among Seattle's volatile Asian population, while Vancouver's Asian
population has a lower homicide rate than for non-Hispanic
Caucasians. Unscientifically, the authors "are disinclined to
calculate a summary odds ratio stratified by race," which would
allow a determination of whether ethnicity, rather than firearms,
explained the homicide rate differences. (Centerwall, 1991:1246)
Generally speaking, non-Hispanic Caucasians in the U.S. have
significantly higher rates of gun ownership than prevails among
Hispanics, blacks, and Asians.
The study assumed that, aside from handgun laws and handgun
availability, the two cities were quite similar, based on such
simplistic measures as the rough estimate by police of the
clearance rate for homicides, the sentence established by law for
unlawful carrying of firearms, and some aggregate economic data.
Again, the popular media have taken the assertion of similarities
and expressly declared the cities comparable in terms of
The Vancouver/Seattle comparison simply assumed the gun laws
were the primary differences between the two cities, an assumption
which is unjustified. A more thorough effort did find both lower
levels of handgun ownership and handgun involvement in homicides in
Canadian provinces than in bordering American states, but no
significant differences in homicide rates, except where two cities
demographically unlike anything in Canada -- New York and Detroit -
- were in the state bordering a Canadian province. (Centerwall,
1991) But that was not a test of law but availability.
One of the criticisms of the Seattle/Vancouver comparison --
with its conclusion that "Canadian-style gun control...is
associated with lower rates of homicide" (Sloan et al., 1988:1261)
-- was that no effort was made to determine how Canadian homicide
had changed since adopting the law as described in their article.
In fact, the homicide rate had risen slightly with handgun use
unchanged at about one-eighth of homicides. (Blackman, 1989) The
authors responded that the "intent of our article was not to
evaluate the effect of the 1978 Canadian gun law" (Sloan et al.,
The Vancouver/Seattle homicide comparison noted that the gun
ownership data might not be reliable -- significant for something
suggesting a relationship between ownership or availability and
homicide rates. It also acknowledged that Seattle and Vancouver
might be different and thus not comparable, and noted that the
Seattle area might not be projectable to the rest of the United
States (Sloan et al., 1988). The difference in gun ownership may
not be that great, even if handgun ownership rates are. They
assert that handguns explain the difference in firearm-related
homicide in the two cities and emphasize the differences in handgun
regulations, asserting relatively few Canadian restrictions on long
guns. It is unclear that it is solely the difference in handgun
misuse in homicide which distinguishes Seattle from Vancouver. In
the figure produced in the article, their chart makes the relative
difference between the cities' rifle/shotgun homicides look
similarly different from the handgun differences. Requests for
specific data breaking down homicides by type of firearm have been
ignored by the authors of the study. The significance is that,
while handguns are sharply restricted in Canada, rifles and
shotguns were relatively unrestricted in both jurisdictions during
the study period. Interestingly, the authors assumed there were
dramatically higher levels of gun ownership in Seattle than in
Vancouver -- largely based on comparing protective handgun
ownership in Seattle to sporting handgun ownership in Vancouver,
and using a peculiar test which presumes that firearm availability
among the general public can be determined by measuring the
percentage of suicides and homicides involving firearms. However,
a survey by Gary A. Mauser in British Columbia, and Gary Kleck's
analysis of two decades of national general social survey data
suggests that gun ownership levels in the two cities might be
similar. (Private communication)
The CDC said "The paper by Sloan et al....applies scientific
methods to examine a focus of contention between advocates and
opponents of stricter regulation of firearms, particularly
handguns" (Mercy and Houk, 1988). Criminologist Gary Kleck told
National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" (Dec. 16, 1989):
"The research was worthless. There isn't a legitimate gun control
expert in the country who regarded it as legitimate research.
There were only two cities studied, one Canadian, one U.S. There
are literally thousands of differences across cities that could
account for violence rates, and these authors just arbitrarily
seized on gun levels and gun control levels as being what caused
the difference. It's the sort of research that never should have
seen the light of day."
Factoid: Restrictive gun laws explain why Vancouver has a lower
youth suicide rate than Seattle. (Sloan et al., 1990a)
After studying homicide in Seattle and Vancouver, Kellermann
and his colleagues (Sloan, et al.) went on to compare suicide in
the two locales, but switched, inexplicably, from the cities to the
metropolitan areas. The overall suicide rate in Vancouver was
found to be higher. They also found that among most ethnic groups
and overall, the suicide rate was higher in Vancouver, where guns
were presumably fewer.
Eventually, they figured out that they could claim that the
Canadian gun law helped explain the fact that the suicide rate
among 15-24 year olds was lower in the Canadian city than in the
American. They have not been able to explain how a gun law could
lower the suicide rate among a particular group while failing to
lower the rate overall -- how a restrictive law can shrink a subset
without affecting the size of the set, unless it caused a higher
rate of suicide among some other age group.
Crediting Canadian gun laws with this peculiarity would at
least have required looking at trends in suicide -- which rose in
Canada after adopting the law in effect at the time of the study.
Another study (Rich et al., 1990) looked at Toronto suicide before
and after adoption of the Canadian gun law in effect in Vancouver
at the time of the Sloan et al. study, and found that there was a
change in the means of committing suicide but not in the suicide
rate, and thus concluded that, absent guns, other means would be
substituted with no net effect on the suicide rate. This is
similarly the finding of Gary Kleck (Point Blank, 1991), that gun
laws might affect the method but not the outcome.
And a recent, as-yet-unpublished study by Brandon Centerwall
looked at suicide in Canadian provinces and neighboring American
states, and found that suicide rates were generally slightly higher
overall, and among persons 15-24 years of age, in Canada, even
though gun ownership, and handgun ownership in particular, was
significantly higher in the American states than in their
neighboring Canadian provinces and territories. Those details were
presented to a world conference on violence held in Atlanta, under
the leadership of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) in May 1993.
Like the earlier study (Sloan et al., 1988a), the study
misstated somewhat the laws affecting Seattle/King County
(Washington State and U.S. federal law) and Vancouver and its
metropolitan area (Canadian national law). The most seriously
ignored aspect was in the second study, of suicide, where age
groups were studied and most of the emphasis was on the age groups
below the age of 25. Although, in general, the laws of the U.S.
are less restrictive than those of Canada, acquisitions of firearms
during the period studied were lawful at a younger age in Canada
than in the U.S. -- 18 vs. 21 for handguns; 16 vs. 18 for rifles
Their study warned that they were ignoring such suicide-
related factors as alcoholism, mental illness, and unemployment; it
noted that the area might not be comparable to the rest of the
United States -- especially since gun use in suicide was lower;
noted that the suicide data might have been flawed; and again noted
that the gun ownership rates between the Seattle and Vancouver
metropolitan areas might not have been measured comparably (Sloan
et al., 1990a).
Kellermann and his colleagues often respond to criticism of
their research not with factual material but with the claim that
the critic is biased. One example: "Coming from an official
spokesman for the National Rifle Association [NRA], Blackman's
invective is no surprise. Kleck's and Wright's long-held views on
the issue of gun control are also well known, and their criticism
was predictable." (Sloan et al., 1990b) As it happens, Wright's
long-held views were as an advocate of restrictive gun laws whose
mind was changed by his research (Wright, 1988); and Kleck remains
a supporter of restrictive gun laws (Kleck, 1991) and has been
criticized for that by the NRA. (Blackman, 1993) Neither gibe is
a scientific response.12 They went on to respond to the NRA's
criticism by irrelevantly saying the NRA should "return to the
Defense Department the $4.5 million in annual funding provided to
firing ranges operated by the National Rifle Association" -- an
apparent misunderstanding of Defense appropriations, since none of
it goes to NRA-operated ranges. (Sloan et al., 1990b)
Factoid: Suicide is five times more likely to occur in a home with
a gun. (Kellermann et al., 1992)
This study used King County (Seattle) and Shelby County
(Memphis), Tennessee (then home base for Kellermann). The authors
combined the suicides in the two counties, and then used a "case
control" methodology to compare the suicides to persons otherwise
somewhat similar (same neighborhood, age range, sex, ethnicity) who
did not commit suicide. They found that suicides were more likely
to be gun owners than non-suicides. There were a number of
problems with the study, of course, but it provides two "ratios"
which are now popular in public health anti-gun literature. One is
the crude odds ratio, asserting that persons with guns in the home
were three times more likely to commit suicide than those without
guns in the home. Even if the ratio were accurate, the "three"
pales compared to the crude odds ratio of over 70 for persons who
had been treated for depression or mental illness, and various
other so-called risk factors, including illicit drug use, living
alone, and domestic violence.
The more popular odds ratio is the so-called adjusted odds
ratio which controls for a few other factors, and found suicide is
five times more likely if a gun is in the home than otherwise. One
problem with this is that five is still half the adjusted risk of
illegal drug use, which was about 10.
With one-third of the suicide study above the age of 60, no
question of physical health was asked. And, while the question of
treatment for depression or mental illness was asked, it was not
included in the factors for which crude or adjusted odds ratios for
suicide were calculated: In fact, the odds ratio, if calculated,
would have been about 25 times higher for depression than for
Incredibly, mental illness and depression have been ignored or
denied in suicide studies sponsored by the CDC. Kellermann et al.
asked about history of mental illness or depression, but the odds
ratio was not calculated. And the CDC's leading spokesmen have
denied its relevance to recent increases in suicide, without
citation (Rosenberg and Mercy, 1991:4) or, it would seem,
justification. (O'Carroll et al., 1991:185) To the CDC, Kellermann
et al.'s failing to control for mental illness and depression was
consistent with calling it a "well-designed study that controlled
for other known risk factors...." (Mercy et al., 1993:17)
The study's exclusion of many of the suicides which occurred
in the two counties was a deliberate twisting of the data. For
various statistical reasons, about 25% of the suicides could not be
used. More importantly, they started out by excluding all suicides
outside the home, which amounted to roughly 30% of the suicides in
the two cities, on the grounds that "most suicides committed with
guns occur there [in the home]." (Kellermann et al., 1992:470)
Although excluding outside suicides may have changed the Shelby
County data minimally, the percentage of suicides involving
firearms fell from 51% in the home to 36% outside the home in King
County. So they started out by deliberately skewing the sample by
excluding suicides not less apt to fit their pattern. They imagine
they have proven that other methods will not be substituted, but
they have not really measured any such thing, of course. (One
study, by Rich et al., looked at Toronto before and after the 1977
Canadian gun law took effect and found that suicide rates did not
change, but there was a switch from guns to jumping.) One
epidemiologist, attempting to unravel the data, calculates that the
crude odds ratio would fall from 3.2 to 1.9. (David N. Cowan,
Even if the odds ratios were accurate -- and the 5-to-1 is
based on less than half of the two counties' suicides -- factors
with greater risks than firearms were illicit drug use (suggesting
that legislative remedies with regard to guns might not be
effective), a history of domestic violence, living alone, alcohol
abuse, and taking prescription psychotropic medication. And, of
course, the study failed to note that there was no relationship
between gun availability and levels of suicide anywhere in the
Factoid: A gun in the home increases the chance of homicide by
three to one, and does not offer protection from homicide.
(Kellermann et al., 1993)
The fatal flaw in the effort by Kellermann et al. (1993) to
evaluate the protective value of firearms is that it uses only
homicide data. As Kellermann has acknowledged elsewhere, no study
of homicide, however sophisticated or simplistic, can evaluate the
protective value of firearms. (Kellermann and Reay, 1986a) The
reason is that, as Gary Kleck's analysis (Point Blank, 1991) and
recently completed survey show, only 0.1% of the 2.5-million
protective uses of firearms involves mortality. (Kleck, 1994)
Survey research data are essential for that evaluation.
It is the authors' belief, however, that if guns offered
protection, the level of gun ownership among homicide victims
should have been lower than the level among the "controls" who were
similar except for not having been homicide victims.
Interestingly, the study also found that security devices such as
deadbolt locks, window bars, and dogs offered no security, and that
"controlled security access to residence" was a greater risk for
homicide than gun ownership. Unlike guns, they noted "these data
offer no insight into the effectiveness of home-security measures
against...burglary, robbery, or sexual assault." (1993:1090) Since
the study merely found an association between gun ownership, some
home security precautions, and homicide, there was no way to
determine causation. Presumably, some security precautions are
taken because one is at greater risk for attack. As Kleck has
noted, a similarly distorted case-control study would have found a
connection between diabetes and insulin, and concluded that insulin
increases ones risk of diabetes rather than offering protection
against it. (Polsby, 1994) Alternatively, one could begin with the
fact that Kellermann has indicated, in an 1993 op-ed piece he
entitled "Gunsmoke," that the association he is showing between
guns and homicide is similar to early studies relating smoking and
cancer, noting that the tobacco industry called the studies
inconclusive and misleading. What Kellermann does not note is that
there were also similar preliminary studies falsely concluding
there might be a causal relationship between coffee and pancreatic
cancer and between inhalers and AIDS. (David N. Cowan, personal
The entire "case control" approach, justified on the grounds
it is useful for studying events which rarely happen,13 confuses
rather than contributes to learning about homicide or suicide. By
selecting controls similar to persons who die from homicide or
suicide means selecting persons largely unrepresentative of society
at large or even of the unrepresentative counties chosen. The
homicide study, for example, involved persons less affluent and
less educated than the counties in general, and the population
studied was 62% black while the counties studied were 25% black.
It was a study of very high risk individuals compared to high risk
individuals, not a study comparing homicide victims to ordinary
citizens or gun owners.
A substantial minority of the high-risk population studied may
already be proscribed from firearms possession, since, of the
victim households, 53% reported an arrest record and 32% illicit
drug use. At any rate, the case control can tell nothing about
whether use of alcohol -- found to be riskier than gun possession
with no concomitant teetotaling recommendation -- or possession of
firearms is risky behavior for ordinary citizens. Had a serious
study been envisioned, Kellermann et al. could have compared
characteristics of homicide victims to those of the communities as
a whole, based upon survey research.
The basis for finding gun ownership levels higher in homes
where homicides occurred than in the controls may also be flawed.
Some household homicides -- less likely to have involved firearms
and thus quite possibly less likely to have involved households
with guns -- were excluded. For example, they excluded homicides
of persons under the age of 13. In general, children are more apt
to be killed at home and less apt to be killed with firearms (one-
quarter of killings of children vs. two-thirds of homicides
overall). (FBI, 1993:18) It is theoretically possible that using
all persons killed in the home would have reduced the crude odds
ratio of gun possession below the level of significance.
In addition, it is quite possible that the gun ownership data
are flawed, with missing guns in the households of the controls,
and it would not take many mistakes for significance to be lost.
The proxies for the homicide victims, after all, would just have
gone through the effects of the deceased, following a police
investigation of the scene of the homicide -- the home --which may
have alerted proxies to firearms of which they were previously
ignorant. For the controls, however, household ownership was based
on ordinary survey research. And those data consistently show that
females report dramatically less household ownership than males --
too much to be explained by the number of female-headed households
without guns. Women simply do not always know there is a firearm
in their home or are less willing to acknowledge it in a survey.
It would only have taken 11 controls, of 388, erroneously denying
household firearms ownership for the crude odds ratio to fall below
the level of statistical significance. With women reporting 10-15
percentage points lower gun ownership than men, the Kellermann et
al. survey could easily have interviewed 20-40 control households
which incorrectly reported that there was no firearm in the home.14
The statistical difference in gun ownership levels -- the basis for
all of their conclusions -- may simply not be there.
Kellermann et al. reveal nothing new or valid about homicide,
since they studied only homicides in their three metropolitan
counties which occurred in the home of the victim, and then
arbitrarily excluded those involving persons under age 13. The
result was an unrepresentative sample of homicide -- over 40% were
family members killing family members, although nationally that
figure would be just over 10%, according to the FBI's Crime in the
United States, 1992 (1993:19). Their finding that most killings in
and around homes involve people who know each other is as
newsworthy as finding alcohol involvement in barroom slayings. So
limited was their study that the "crude odds ratios" -- a
statistical way to approximate the relative risk of various
possible risk factors -- were based on 21% of the areas' homicides.
The "adjusted odds ratios" -- another way, attempting to hold for
the effects of a five other factors, four of which were found
riskier than guns -- was based on just 17% of the counties'
Another problem deals with ignorance or indifference of
criminological and other findings as to what constitutes a risk
factor. (Nettler, 1982) Part of this is owing to the inappropriate
methodologies. Case control, for example, requires assuming
certain factors to be risk factors -- ethnicity, age, gender,
perhaps income or education -- which prevents further measurement.
Other factors recognized by criminologists have been ignored in
most public health studies, including family structure and values,
influences of peer groups and the mass media, unemployment, and the
like. Sometimes the ignorance leads to pretending a major
discovery has been made when the criminologically-obvious was
happened upon. Kellermann et al. thus discovered that homicides in
the home generally involve persons who know one another, rather
than strangers, and that intruders are rarely involved. To
criminologists, it would be mindboggling that anyone might think
otherwise, with burglary-related homicides always a small
percentage of homicide and, otherwise, it being obvious that people
in one's home are persons one knows. Factors ignored included
family upbringing at a time when even the media are noticing, as
criminologists long have, the importance of one-parent families as
a risk factor, and whether socialization is by peers or family.
Despite the distortions, with the adjusted odds ratio,
firearms came in fifth of six factors tested for the adjusted odds
ratio, behind illicit drug use and domestic violence. Other
factors were either not checked at all or were ignored in the
calculations. Firearms may actually have been even further behind
various other risk factors, due to dishonest reporting by the case
subjects, or refusals to answer. When the proxies for the homicide
victims were interviewed, if they did not answer certain questions,
they were excluded from the comparison on that particular factor,
not counting either the non-response of the case subject or the
response of the control. It may be reasonably presumed that more
socially undesirable characteristics were sometimes not
acknowledged, as the missing data are greater for such factors as
being involved in fights, household use of illicit drugs, serious
problems caused by drinking, and the like.
In addition, while most (87%) controls were interviewed in
person, only 60% of case proxies were so interviewed, with the rest
done by telephone. It has generally been found that in-person
interviews get more accurate data than telephone interviews on such
socially undesirable activities as tax cheating and illegal drug
use. (Westat, 1980; Gfroerer and Hughes, 1992) If the responses,
if given or given honestly, would have indicated affirmation of the
undesirable behavior, the odds ratios might have been still greater
for such factors, with firearms ownership further behind.
The dramatically higher odds ratios for domestic violence than
for firearms ownership -- which could have been still higher had
more of the 30 respondents who did not answer that question answer
in the affirmative -- led Kellermann et al. to conclude something
should be done about that problem. However, the policy of the CDC,
which funded their research, as announced at the November 1992
meetings of the American Society of Criminology, by the CDC's James
Mercy, is that funding firearms research is a high priority but
funding domestic violence research is not. If the CDC finds the
research by Kellermann et al. credible, its funding priorities
should be changed immediately.
A finding to undermine credibility of the study is that living
in a rented home is nearly four times riskier than living in public
housing. Without endorsing teetotaling, the study found that if
any member of the household drank at all, the risk of homicide was
greater than was the case with gun ownership. And, as with most
CDC studies, credibility is undermined by inaccurate citations.
Wright et al. (1983) do not validate their gun availability
measures, and two of the four studies cited did not demonstrate a
link between gun availability and community homicide rates.
Credibility should also be undermined by the public presentations.
In the press conference presenting the study, co-author Frederick
Rivara asserted that the three metropolitan counties -- including
Seattle, Memphis, and Cleveland -- were representative of not
merely urban, but suburban and rural America. King, Shelby, and
Cuyahoga county are major metropolitan areas, and the study of
homicides would have emphasized the inner-city of each, with little
representation of the suburbs. The counties were not chosen to be
representative of America, but for the convenience of the
researchers who lived or had connections in those three counties.
There is no indication that the guns actually used in the
homicides are those which were in the home. Since the victims all
must reside in the home for the homicide to have counted (thus
excluding any self-defense killings of intruders), and only 43% of
killings involved persons who probably lived in the house, odds are
that a majority of the killings with guns involved guns not owned
by the victim. For that matter, handguns belonged in the home of
only 35% of victims, but 43% died by handgun, so in some 8% of
cases it would have been impossible for the household handgun to be
involved. Very few attempted to use a gun for protection. The
issue then becomes whether a gun is supposed to offer protection
against homicide of ordinary mortals the way being dipped in the
River Styx was supposed to protect Achilles, or a roof protects the
house against rain, with no need for further action by the gun
owner. Kellermann et al. may have demonstrated that when the NRA
says the mere presence of a gun can offer protection, it means that
the mere presence accessible in some way to its owner -- or with
widespread ownership providing general deterrence.
Self-defense killings were (properly) excluded from the study,
as non-criminal homicide, but there was no effort to determine any
relationship between gun ownership and protective killings.
Despite their insistence that their "methodology was capable of
demonstrating significant protective effects of gun ownership as
readily as any evidence of increased risk," their study was not
capable of finding a relationship between gun ownership and
protective homicide, since those were excluded. In addition, any
homicide of someone who did not belong in the house was excluded,
thus excluding slayings of burglars and other criminal offenders in
the home. What they seem to mean is that if guns were useful for
protection, then gun ownership levels should have been higher among
control than among case households. And, of course, the study
would still say nothing about non-fatal protective (or criminal)
gun use. If nothing else, they should have been alerted to the
possibility that gun ownership is associated with self-defense
killings by their earlier study comparing Vancouver and Seattle
(Sloan et al., 1988:1259) where 81% of the justifiable or self-
defense killings occurred in Seattle, where they presumed there to
be higher levels of handgun ownership.
Factoid: Family and intimate assaults are 12 times more likely to
result in death if a firearm is involved than domestic assaults
where a firearm is not involved. (Saltzman et al., 1992)
This study has some of the same failings as the article
introducing the 43-to-1 factoid. Written by four of the most
active of the CDC-employed anti-gunners, however, caveats about the
limitations of the study are left out.
The key problem is the same as when similar claims were made
for homicide/assault overall by Newton and Zimring (1969:44) in the
1960s: It begs the question of whether guns are used because
killing is intended or killing results because guns are used.
Intent is ignored; all assaults are presumed equally likely to be
intended to kill, or not intended to kill -- including pistol
whipping. The researchers merely assume it makes no difference
what intention was; good would come from restricting firearms
access anyway -- and, again, there is no consideration of whether
firearms use was defensive or aggressive. Interestingly, the
article appeared the same month as another article suggesting that
one reason there were more gunshot wounds per patient than earlier
was an increasing motivation to kill. (Webster, et al., 1992a)
The 12-to-1 study was of one atypical jurisdiction
(Atlanta/Fulton County) for a period of one year, with a grand
total of 23 deaths, or approximately one-tenth of one percent
(0.1%) of those which occurred in the U.S. during 1984. It was
published at a time when, with the massively reported increase in
female firearms ownership, the domestic homicide rate is at, at
least, a quarter-century low. (FBI, 1993) There were no data
presented involving either the sex of the victim or the
determination of the police, prosecutors, or others, as to whether
any of the 23 deaths (or any of the 14 involving firearms) were
justifiable or self-defense killings.
The only domestic violence included in the study was that
reported to the police. If their Atlanta figures are projected,
then there were approximately 50,000 gun-related domestic violence
incidents reported to police nationally, and 440,000 total domestic
violence incidents reported to police, although the Bureau of
Justice Statistics (1984) projects about a quarter-million gun-
related domestic violence incidents reported to police out of a
total of 1.3 million domestic violence incidents reported to
police; and the BJS reports a total of 2.3 million domestic
violence incidents (including those respondents said were not
reported to police). Both the BJS and JAMA (June 17, 1992) assume
that many domestic violence incidents are not reported to either
police or the victimization surveys, putting the overall estimate
of annual domestic violence incidents at roughly two to four
million domestic assaults on wives, plus others on children,
husbands, and other family members. With such a small sample
reported to the Atlanta police, absolutely nothing is known about
the effects of gun use on domestic violence. Too much is left out
-- perhaps deliberately, in order to come up with a catchy ratio.
The data base is not only unrepresentative of the nation as a
whole -- based on comparisons to National Crime Survey
(NCS/victimization surveys) -- but the authors knew their sample
was unrepresentative, noting that the NCS often shows weapons often
used in other than ordinary ways or not used to injure without
firing. "For example, an offender with a firearm may push, hit, or
kick the victim. However, in all but two incidents in this study,
the injuries sustained were those expected from the types of
Factoid: When a woman kills someone with a gun, it is five times
more likely to be loved one than stranger. (Kellermann and Mercy,
In terms of women and guns, Kellermann and Mercy (1992)
reported that, when women killed men with a gun, the man was five
times more likely to be an intimate than a stranger. They ignored
the fact that the same ratio was found when women killed men with
knives, and that it only fell to four when the killing involved
some other weapon. There was no suggestion that the killings were
other than self-defensive, a view supported by criminological
literature: "Moreover, it seems clear that a large proportion of
spousal killings perpetrated by wives, but almost none of those
perpetrated by husbands, are acts of self-defense....women kill
male partners after years of suffering physical violence, after
they have exhausted all available sources of assistance, when they
feel trapped, and because they fear for their own lives." (Wilson
and Daly, 1992) Comparable to the five-to-one ratio, a study of
rape found it 3.5 times more likely to be by a non-stranger.
(National Victim Center and the Crime Victims Research and
Treatment Center, 1992) Thus, domestic self-defense is bemoaned as
something women should try to avoid by avoiding firearms ownership.
Factoid: The actual medical costs of treating gunshot wounds is $4
billion, 86% of which is paid for by tax dollars, with lifetime
costs of $14-20(-40) billion. (Chafee, 1992; Mercy, 1993:9; Mercy
et al., 1993:11)
Although popular with anti-gun advocacy groups and politicians
(Chafee, 1992), there is no apparent basis for the $4-billion
figure for actual costs for medical treatment of gunshot wounds,
and it is not a figure commonly used by the CDC. There is
similarly no basis for the $40 billion figure. The $14.4 and the
updated $20.4 billion figures are based on two studies by Dorothy
P. Rice (Rice et al., 1989:217; Max and Rice, 1993)
Of the $20.4 billion, however, only $1.4 billion goes for
actual medical care of gunshot wound victims, even estimating there
to be some 171,000 non-serious gunshot injuries in addition to the
65,000 estimated elsewhere (Martin, et al., 1988). The 171,000
figure would mean that the vast majority of gunshot wound victims
do not need hospitalization, or even emergency-room care. One
study suggested that releasing 60% of emergency-room gunshot wound
victims was unusually large, and due in part to the minor injuries
likely to be inflicted in drive-by shootings. (Ordog et al., 1994)
The figure of $1.4 billion, if accurate, would mean that gunshot
wounds account for approximately one-fifth of one percent of the
nation's annual medical costs. (U.S. Bureau of the Census,
While the $1.4 billion figure may have been carefully
calculated, the estimate of $17.4 billion -- most of the remainder
of the $20 billion -- is for lost productivity of those killed. It
is the figure which leads Mercy to assert that gunshot fatalities
are the costliest of premature deaths to society. The reason Mercy
finds them costliest is that the victims of gunshot fatalities are,
on the average, younger than victims of most other injury
fatalities, and thus in theory have more years of productive life
lost. The flaw in the assumption regarding the costs to society is
that the presumption is that persons killed with guns would, absent
the gunshot wound, have led productive working-class lives. In
fact, studies of homicide victims -- especially the increasing
number of younger ones -- suggest they are frequently criminals
themselves and/or drug addicts or users. It is quite possible that
their deaths, in terms of economic consequences to society, are net
gains. Society is freed from costs of $20,000 per year for
imprisonment, and of the costs criminals impose on society, which,
among the most active of criminals, has been estimated at upwards
of $400,000 per year. (Zedlewski, 1987) A failure to understand
who is dying of gunshot wounds, and what they would have done had
they not died, makes the "lost productivity" costs nonsensical.
The 85.6% figure for tax dollars is a slight misreading of a
study (Martin et al., 1988), indicating that in a single study in
a single city, only 14.4% of the medical costs were paid for by the
patient or covered by his medical insurance. Some of the remaining
costs were borne by the hospital, cutting in to profits, but not
requiring actual expenditures of public funds. And other studies
have found much larger percentages of gunshot wound victims covered
by medical insurance. A Washington, D.C., study, for example, for
37% of patients insured. (Webster et al., 1992a) However, the
fact that a majority -- whether five-eighths or six-sevenths -- of
medical costs of gunshot wound victims are not covered by insurance
undermines still further the pretense that firearm-related violence
affects ordinary folks. Nationally, about 85% of hospital costs
are covered by the patient or his insurance. (U.S. Bureau of the
Factoid: The restrictive licensing law in the District of Columbia
saved about 47 lives per year, with firearm-related deaths down in
the city but not in the surrounding areas. (Loftin et al., 1991)
One of the only efforts to test the effects of a gun law
similarly deliberately distorted data to reach a conclusion -- but
started by distorting the law, referring to a prospective handgun
ban as a restrictive licensing law. While most scientists will
compare cities to cities, these researchers compared the numbers of
homicides in a city, which was rapidly losing population, to those
in the surrounding suburbs, which were growing. In addition, for
the methodology to be persuasive, the trends before the
intervention point -- the effective date of the law -- should be
similar for the control jurisdiction and the one being tested,
which was not the case for the District and its suburbs. (Kleck et
al., 1993:3-4) Perhaps worse, the model used disguised the fact
any chart on the homicides would have shown, that the rate of
homicide fell before the Washington, D.C., gun law went into
effect, and then was stable, rose slightly, fell for a brief time,
and then skyrocketed.15 (Office of Criminal Justice Plans and
Analysis, 1992) Applying the model 6, 12, 18, or even 24 months
before the effective date of the law (as asserted by Loftin et al.)
would similarly have shown that homicide went down after those
arbitrarily selected starting points, and, indeed, went down faster
using the 6 or 12 or 18 months before the law took effect. (Kleck
et al., 1993:19)
The model used essentially averaged pre-law with post-law
homicides to take advantage of the fact that the homicide rate had
been quite high in the early 1970s before falling until the year
(1976) the gun law was enacted. When challenged with the assertion
that homicide dropped during the two years before the law took
effect, between 1974 and 1976 (Blackman, 1992b), the authors
dishonestly asserted that the critic had said that the drop in
homicide began in January 1974, thus suggesting that January 1974
is 24 months before October 1976. (Loftin, et al., 1992) The
authors had checked no other possible factors to explain what they
perceived as a drop in homicide; they assumed it must have been the
gun law, even though other factors certainly existed in Washington,
D.C., including increased efforts to enforce federal gun laws in
the District in the mid-1970s (Kleck, 1992) -- and, indeed, even
though they found a dramatic drop in homicide to be an unexpected
consequence of a law aimed at gradually reducing the number of
lawfully-owned handguns in the city. (Loftin, et al., 1991:1619-20)
Using the same model to test for a gradual decline in homicide,
which should have been expected if the handgun freeze worked, shows
that the law did not work. (Kleck et al.:11-12) Similarly, the
law does not work if the time period is extended by two years, even
though a law intended for a gradual effectiveness should be
steadily working more, and extending the time frame three years
beyond the date Loftin et al. ended would have shown the law to be
counterproductive. (Kleck et al., 1993:8)
The methodology chosen and its use were eviscerated by Kleck
et al. (1993), who noted that similar sudden drops in homicide
could be found by putting the starting point for the month-by-month
comparison at any number of starting points in the years around the
time the law was adopted, and that one could use the same
methodology to show that a state preemption law which repealed an
existing city waiting period also reduced homicides sharply. The
same methodology and same time period would also show a sharper
decline in Baltimore homicide -- a better control jurisdiction than
the District's suburbs -- without any such legislative initiative
as a handgun "freeze." In addition, they noted that the same
result would not be achieved if FBI homicide data were used rather
than NCHS homicide data, and questioned a conclusion which depends
upon which source of homicide data is used. (Kleck et al., 1993:16-
18) One might also note that the primary distinction is that the
NCHS data would include non-criminal homicides by law enforcement
and civilians, leading to the odd conclusion that a restrictive gun
law saved the lives of criminals, while the lack of similar
conclusions from FBI data would indicate that the lives of the law
abiding were not saved.
Like Kellermann and Reay (1986), the Loftin et al. study was
apparently not funded by the CDC, but served as the first
demonstration of an approach to evaluating gun laws which the CDC
was asked to fund with $368,443 (Public Health Service Grant
Application Number 306268-01, September 26, 1990). The first CDC
funded study (Grant #R49/CCR-306268) using the same approach found,
with (thus far) little publicity, that "mandatory sentencing
reduces firearm homicides, while waiting periods have no influence
on either homicides or suicides with guns." (McDowall, 1993:1)
While the conclusion is probably accurate, the only improvement in
the methodology is using several jurisdictions with the same sort
of legislative change, which may increase slightly the likelihood
that the otherwise seriously flawed interrupted time series
approach (Kleck, 1992; Kleck et al., 1993) may yield persuasive
Factoids Regarding "Children"
Factoid: Firearms education may increase the risk of gun-related
injuries. (Kellermann et al., 1991:19)
Although education is not dismissed entirely as a means to
reduce firearm-related injuries, it is generally dismissed as
inadequate. And education is perceived as a possible threat to
produce an increase in the misuse of firearms. And, while
education is a generally approved, if inadequate, in other facets
of life as an approach to reducing injury, when it comes to
firearms, education becomes a possible threat lest "safety benefits
of such courses are outweighed by their ability to promote an
interest in firearms, an interest which increases the number of
firearms in circulation and the potential for both intentional and
unintentional injuries." (NCIPC, 1989:266) And the CDC has opined
that "educational interventions...are often expensive and rarely
result in lasting behavioral change. Some educational
interventions...may actually increase the probability of injury."
(Kellermann et al., 1991:19)16
One survey noted no difference in how firearms were stored
(locked and loaded or not) related to whether the owner had
firearms instructions; "instruction in the proper handling of
firearms was not associated with whether a gun was kept loaded when
not in use." (Weil and Hemenway, 1992:3037) Unfortunately,
instruction was measured by asking about training, including
military training, which is not generally designed to address the
issue of proper storage of firearms in the home. In addition, the
dismissal came despite acknowledgement that the only study possibly
relevant to actual misuse found that owners of guns involved in
accidental shooting deaths of children were unlikely to have
received any safety training. (Heins et al., 1974) The study did
not deal with misuse of firearm, only with whether guns were stored
in a potentially dangerous way.
Surveys of pediatricians and their patients' parents found
that pediatricians were uncomfortable with the idea of counselling
regarding firearms, recognizing their ignorance on the topic, and
that parents would be unlikely to seek advice on firearms from
pediatricians, or to heed advice if offered. (Webster et al.,
1992b) Considering physicians' reluctance even to ask about
domestic violence in potentially battered patients (Jecker 1993),
it is unlikely the professions' members will willingly turn to
invading privacy with questions not clearly related to an ailment
they are treating. In addition, non-gun owning parents indicated
a likelihood to turn to the police for firearms instruction, with
gun owners more likely to turn to gun organizations. (Webster et
al., 1992b, 1992c) Under the circumstances, a more effective way
for physicians to reduce the firearms-related injuries due to
accidents would be to cooperate with the National Rifle
Association's "Eddie Eagle" program for teaching children firearms
avoidance and safety, a program which won a National Safety Council
community service award for NRA Vice President Marion Hammer for
her work in getting the program adopted in the schools in Florida.
(Tallahassee Democrat, Oct. 6, 1993, p. 12A)
Factoid: There is an epidemic of children killing children with
guns. (Rosenberg, 1984:127; Rice et al., 1989:23)
Recent trends in homicide, particularly firearms-related
homicide, in America have been discouraging, (Law Enforcement News,
1990) although the push to tie restrictive gun laws to misuse by
children began while reported trends were still moving the right
direction. And, for the most part, the real sharp increase in
homicide -- and firearms-related homicide -- occurred in the 1960s
and 1970s, and went down during the early 1980s. (Baker et al.,
1984:90-91) As Kleck has noted, the homicide rate, and gun
involvement in homicide, for persons 0-19, improved somewhat in the
late 1970s and 1980s, and did not begin its upwards drift until
1987 (U.S. House of Representatives, 1989:60), by which time the
anti-gun groups had already begun to emphasize children as the
reason for needing more restrictive gun laws (Treanor and
Bijlefeld, 1989:Unpaginated letter from Constance A. Morella), and
after Congress had passed legislation calling upon the CDC to study
injury-related deaths among children. Examples of the limited time
frame for the depressing recent trend abound. Seventeen percent of
homicide victims in the District of Columbia were aged 15 and under
in 1980 (personal communication from D.C. police), and the figure
for those 17 and under fell to 6% in 1986, rising to 11% in 1991.
The suspected assailants were under 18 in about 6% of the homicides
in 1986, rising to about 20% in 1989 and 1990, and falling back to
10% for the first half of 1991. (Johnson and Robinson, 1992)
Overall, the involvement of younger persons (under age 15, or
18) in violent crime was generally stable or declining from the
mid-1970s to 1987, as has been demonstrated by Gary Kleck (U.S.
House of Representatives, 1989:60-61). Since that time, there has
been an increase, coincidentally beginning almost exactly the time
Congress expressly authorized the CDC to begin addressing the issue
of injury-deaths among youths. The rise has not been across the
boards, either in terms of who is apparently committing the crimes
(based on arrest record), or on the types of criminal violence.
(FBI, 1992:220-229,279-289). For most crimes, the 1980s saw
stability in the arrest rate among white youth and other non-black
races, except for slight very recent increases. Overall, and
particularly for homicide, the black arrest rate rose dramatically.
For all races, one of the more shocking aspect of the arrest trends
is that there is a dramatically greater increase in arrests for
homicide than for other violent crimes. Violent crime arrest rates
were fairly stable from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, but then
rose substantially, while property offenses dropped. (Snyder,
1992) Similarly, teenage victims in crime surveys indicate a
decrease in theft but with a downward trend in violent
victimizations during the early 1980s being replaced by a increase
in violent victimizations more recently, up to levels reported
around 1979-81. (Whitaker and Bastian, 1991:3)
But clear and dramatic increases in crimes involving young
persons, especially blacks, as perpetrators and victims, have
occurred. The same trend is clear with CDC data. In order to show
dramatic increases, the CDC has to be careful to use the mid-1980s
for comparison, since the late 1970s and early 1980s will fail to
show dramatic changes, or, for some age- and racial groups, any
changes, whether looking at homicide overall or at gun-related
homicide. Compared to 1979-81, only the homicide rate for infants
under the age of one has risen dramatically -- and almost none of
those homicides (3-4%) involve firearms. (FBI, 1992:18 and
1993:18; Hammett et al., 1992) For other youthful age groups (1-4,
5-9, 10-14, 15-24), the homicide rate remained fairly stable, and
for all other age groups, the homicide rate declined during the
1980s. (Hammett et al., 1992) The same is generally true as well
for firearm-related homicides, except among young black males up to
the age of 25, and for black females aged 10-14. For most five-
year age groups, homicide was fairly stable, declining, or rising
only modestly, between 1979 and 1988. (Fingerhut et al., 1991:7-8)
To find a clearly upward trend in homicide and gun-related
homicide, it is necessary to use the mid-1980s at a starting point
and to emphasize young black males (aged 10-24), for whom a decline
in the early 1980s was followed by a much greater increase in more
recent years. Even with recent homicide increases, the rates are
generally lower for others than around 1979-81. (Hammett et al.,
1992; Fingerhut et al., 1991) Furthermore, one has to emphasize
young blacks from central cities, since the firearm-related
homicide rates for other black teenagers are dramatically lower.
(Fingerhut et al., 1992)
And to play up the threat to "children," it is essential to
use data from the 15-19 age group, or 15-24 age group, or a 10-19
age group. For young children, the homicide rate and the gun-
related homicide rate have minimal trend, with the greatest overall
rise among infants, where firearms are not a factor. And even the
upward trends among some age/race/sex groups below the age of 15
are all with very small numbers and rates. Indeed, the homicide
rates are higher for children below the age of five than for
children aged 5-14, for whom the homicide rates have remained
around 2 per 100,000 and the gun-related homicide rates around 1
per 100,000, although gun-related homicide has risen faster than
other homicide for those 10-14 years of age. (Hammett et al., 1992;
Fingerhut et al., 1991) Yet homicide rarely involves firearms for
those youngest of children with a homicide rate about 8 per 100,000
(3-4% involving firearms), and almost as rarely for the next
youngest age group, at about 15% for 1-4 year olds. (FBI, 1992:18
Factoid: The availability of handguns to urban high school
students is pervasive and it is not limited to high-risk groups.
(Callahan and Rivara, 1992)
One of the authors of this work (Rivara) is part of the
Kellermann et al. group specializing in pretending Vancouver and
Seattle are similar with little pretense to objectivity. The
survey was exclusively in Seattle high schools, thus excluding all
non-city students, who presumably have greater access to firearms
(based on a North Carolina survey often cited with horror as
showing widespread male high schooler access to firearms, despite
the lack of any problem).
The report pretends that access is rather common -- it is
similar to the response one would get if one asked adults about
whether there was a firearm in the home. That is, what the
researchers are learning is that high school students know if there
is a firearm in their home, a not terribly shocking or informative
The authors note, too, that about 6% of the males say they own
a handgun, and about 6.6% have carried it to school at some point.
(Note: At this point, one is talking about 30 persons in a survey
of nearly 1,000, in an unrepresentative urban area.) Although
claiming the access is widespread and not limited to high-risk
groups, there was a significant relationship between access to
handguns and gang membership, drug selling, involvement in criminal
violence, and troublemaking at school. Perhaps most importantly,
in terms of undoing credibility for the survey, it conflicts with
a more extensive CDC survey which found that 4% had carried a gun
(not necessarily a handgun) for protection (not necessarily or
likely to school) during the preceding 30 days. The Seattle survey
would appear not to be representative of the nation's high
Factoid: Having a gun in the home increases the risk of adolescent
suicide 75 fold.
Recently, advocates of restrictive gun laws have a new bogus
figure: "teen-agers in homes with guns are 75 times more likely to
kill themselves than teen-agers living in homes without guns."
(Reeves, 1992) That particular invention had an interesting
development. In a small-scale study17 of suicides, attempted
suicides, and non-suicidal teenagers with psychiatric problems,
firearms were roughly twice as likely to be in the homes of the
suicides than in the homes of those western Pennsylvanians who
unsuccessfully committed suicide or those had psychiatric problems
but were non-suicidal. (Brent et al., 1991) There was no
suggestion, nor any study, of the possible risk factor of firearms
in the home of teenagers who were not suicidal. Indeed, the
ownership levels overall for the sample of mentally disturbed
teenagers was lower than would have been expected in western
Pennsylvania overall, based on the popularity of hunting in the
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
frequently accompanies major articles with an editorial written in
or out of house. In this case, three employees of the CDC authored
an editorial, asserting that "the odds that potentially suicidal
adolescents will kill themselves go up 75-fold when a gun is kept
in the home." (Rosenberg et al., 1991) There was nothing in either
article or editorial to suggest that there was any increased risk
for non-suicidal adolescents; and the suggestion that access to
firearms by suicidal teenagers should be restricted was clearly not
controversial (Blackman, 1992a).
But the 75-fold or 75 times figure was sheer invention, as was
noted in unpublished portions of the letter published by JAMA
(Blackman, 1992a). Instead, the lie was withdrawn in a
"correction" printed in JAMA. Unfortunately, corrections in JAMA
are fairly well hidden compared to corrections in news media like
the Washington Post, but the relevant portion read: "The second
sentence of the Editorial should have read as follows: `In fact,
the odds that potentially suicidal adolescents will kill themselves
more than double [not "go up 75-fold"] when a gun is kept in the
home.'"19 (JAMA [April 8, 1992] 267:1922)
Although the CDC corrected its lie, there is no indication
that any steps have been taken to correct those misusing their
figure. Certainly, this author has seen no letters to the editor
correcting the falsehood when it appears, and in a discussion with
HCI officials for Washingtonian Magazine reporter in Washington in
July 1992, HCI denied there was any correction, so the CDC
apparently did not correct themselves to one of their most avid
readers. And the lie lives on in congressional testimony by
Senator John Chafee (1992).
Factoid: Eleven (or 12) percent of children who die are shot to
The CDC study which came up with 11% (Fingerhut and Kleinman,
1989) carefully excluded deaths of those under the age of one. If
included, firearm-related deaths would have accounted for 4.5% of
the deaths of "children," or one-sixth of one percent of all deaths
of Americans annually. Firearm-related deaths of children 0-14
account for about 0.04% of American deaths. Of deaths in the 1-14
age group, firearms are involved in about 5% (NCHS, 1991).
Redefining children as 1-19 allows the 11% figure from 1989 to be
updated to about 12%.
Factoid: More teenagers now die from firearms than from all
natural causes put together. (Fingerhut, 1993)
Thanks to modern medicine, that is how it should be. Persons
who survive the killers of childhood -- perinatal conditions,
birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome -- should be generally
safe from natural causes until middle age. The change is not
increased violence, but decreased deaths from infectious and
parasitic diseases. And the main threat to alter that statistic,
particularly among the young adults occasionally included in the
"children" category, comes from infectious diseases, particularly
the human immunodeficiency virus. Deaths of teenagers and young
adults are tied to reckless and aggressive behavior.
The study is similar to one published in 1991 (Fingerhut and
Kleinman), but limited to 1985-1990, since the 1980-1985 data would
have shown a dramatic decrease during the first half of the '80s.
(Or, as she worded it, the earlier time frame was ignored because
"it was during the second half of the decade that firearm mortality
increased for the younger population.") The dramatic recent
increase is largely limited to a small segment in society --
already least apt to own guns and most restricted from lawful
access by federal and state law: young black and (for the past
year or two) Hispanic males. The study makes reference to a
dramatic recent increase among whites, but that figure included
Hispanics, and there is no breakdown in the study for non-Hispanic
whites; Fingerhut has acknowledged to the press that she expects
much of the increase for whites was among Hispanics, a statement
supported by a more recent study where Hispanic data were included,
showing firearm-related death rate for Hispanics 15-34 years of age
nearly double the firearm-related death rate for non-Hispanic
whites, albeit less than half of that for blacks. (Fingerhut, et
By limiting their data to those over 1 and under 35, the CDC
disguises the fact that firearm-related deaths are down for much of
the population. The study data show a small decline for those 1-9.
Similar declines occur across the board among those over 34, for
whom gun ownership levels are higher than among those under 35.
Interestingly, almost all of the dramatic increase in firearm-
related deaths among young persons has occurred since 1987 when the
CDC received from Congress the task of reducing firearm-related
deaths among young persons.
Factoid: A large and increasing number of high school students are
taking guns to school.
No one knows how many high-school students, male or female,
carry guns, or handguns, to school, either on a daily, monthly, or
annual basis. In 1990, the CDC began surveying high-school
students regarding weapons carrying, and that report has served as
the basis for some of the disinformation publicized. (CDC, 1991)
If follow-up surveys do not improve the question wording, little is
likely to be learned.20
The CDC survey of high school students asked about carrying
weapons for protection or because it might be needed in a fight,
and then asked about the type of weapon. The time frame was the
preceding 30 days, with frequency asked. Unfortunately, the
question did not ask about carrying onto school grounds, nor about
carrying on the person. Other surveys regarding carrying have made
it clear that carrying in a motor vehicle is included by
respondents as carrying for protection. (Kleck, 1991:117-119) And
most of the carrying was infrequent; nearly 60% who carried did so
at most three of the 30 days.
With mathematical sleight of hand, the 4.1% of students who
carried or transported firearms someplace for protection became, in
the CDC editorial, "Approximately one of 20" rather than one of 25.
The news media were left to put the guns in the schools. In
addition, as Kleck has noted (private communication), the
percentage of students carrying regularly for protection is far
lower than the percentage of adults carrying regularly for
protection, despite a substantially higher violent victimization
rate for the teenagers. Only a minority of the violent
victimization occurs on school grounds (37% for those 12-15, and
17% for those 16-19). (Whitaker and Bastian, 1991:8) A more recent
survey, too, suggests that the place most threatening to students
is not apt to be school. (Sheley et al., 1992 and 1994; Sheley and
Wright, 1993) The survey recently conducted by James D. Wright and
his colleagues at Tulane University, emphasizing inner-city
schools, found that most carrying by students was not on to school
grounds, that the carrying was for protection, and that this very
rarely included carrying onto school property (although it might
include carrying to and from school, hiding the gun someplace
before going onto school grounds). Wright and his colleagues also
noted that "it is useful to point out that nearly everything that
leads to gun-related violence among youths is already against the
law. What is needed are not new and more stringent gun laws but
rather a concerted effort to rebuild the social structure of the
inner cities." (Sheley et al., 1992:682)
How much of the carrying is on school grounds is unknown and
unknowable from the CDC survey. Assuming rationality in choosing
when to carry for protection -- and most students who carry
apparently choose to do so rarely -- the fact that only a minority
of offenses which might require weapons for protection occur at
school, that victimization in general is more common at times when
students are rarely in school, that much carrying normally is in
motor vehicles rather than on the person, and the like, Kleck has
estimated that the number carrying firearms might drop to one in
200 carrying part of the average day, with half of that on the
person, and half of that half on school grounds. The number
carrying guns on the person onto school grounds any given day would
then be about one in 800, or roughly 15-20,000 nationally.
As with other practices, carrying of firearms for protection
(wherever and however) was not something affecting everyone
equally. Males were more than twice as likely to carry for
protection as females, and blacks and Hispanics more likely to
carry than other whites. And, while overall only one-fifth of
those who carried a weapon identified it as a firearm, the majority
of black male students who carried a weapon identified it as a
As with the number carrying, no one knows the trends in
firearms carrying. CDC survey between 1990 and 1991 suggests a
drop, based upon a preliminary comment on it by the CDC's Rosenberg
(1992). The 1990 survey indicated about 20% carrying a weapon of
some kind during the preceding 30 days, and 4% carrying a firearm,
with the comment that "[m]ost students who reported carrying
firearms carried handguns." (CDC, 1991) More recent testimony
indicated 26% carrying a weapon, but "[a]mong students who carried
a weapon, 11% most often carried a handgun." That would project to
about 2.5% handgun carrying, compared to 4% gun carrying. And,
while carrying a weapon was up, for handguns, the CDC goal of a 20%
reduction in weapon carrying by the year 2000 (Rosenberg and Mercy,
1991:9) was met in 1992. On the other hand, speeches by the CDC's
Rosenberg indicate that there was an increase in handgun carrying
between the 1990 and 1991 surveys. Since CDC calculates carrying
not by percentages alone but in combination with frequency, it is
possible that what the CDC is finding is that fewer students carry
handguns for protection, but those who do so are carrying more
Factoid: Latchkey children threatened by access to guns. (Lee and
Another popular means of attacking firearms by public health
professionals is the suggestion that "latchkey children" -- those
who are home alone after school because both adults in the
household work -- are at risk for firearms related accidents. The
study asserting that firearms and latchkey children pose of risk
for accidents did not study accidents to see if there was a
disproportionate number of accidents involving such children, but
only suggested that there were firearms in a substantial proportion
of households with latchkey children. There was no proof of
children's access to the guns. Incidentally, while about 450-500
children 14 and under died in firearms-related accidents in the
1960s and early '70s, the number has been in the 230-250 range in
recent years, although the number of latchkey children has probably
risen and the proportion of households with firearms has remained
stable overall, with the proportion having handguns rising from
about one-sixth of U.S. households in the early '60s to about one-
The number of factoids could be lengthened, and the CDC will
undoubtedly continue to produce others as time goes by and its
budget increases -- while that of the Department of Justice
research arms stays stable of declines, at least in terms of
discretionary grants for research on criminal justice issues.
There is no consistent trend in the CDC research on the firearms
and violence issue. There are, and will for the foreseeable future
continue to be, three basic types of studies.
One will consist largely of gathering and disseminating data
showing the misuses, or trends in the misuses, of firearms. The
data collected and reported will, to the best of the CDC's ability,
be complete and accurate -- potentially useful to more capable
researchers. Those studies will not be complex efforts to look at
myriad factors affecting trends, nor to evaluate firearm
availability or gun laws in relation to misuse. The studies will,
as they have done in the past (e.g., CDC, 1994; Fingerhut and
Kleinman, 1989 and 1990; Fingerhut, 1993; Kellermann and Mercy,
1992), simply report the data, accompanied by some rhetoric, and
conclude that various interventions -- regulating the types of guns
and ammunition which can be manufactured or owned, limiting
availability, etc. -- would work to reduce firearm-related deaths
and injuries. To the extent the conclusion is based on anything,
it will be based on interventions in other sorts of ailments, where
illnesses or accidents, or with citation to previous CDC-endorsed
research of generally low quality.
The second type of study will involve more sophisticated
methodology. As in the past (Kellermann et al., 1992 and 1993;
Loftin et al. 1991), however, such studies can be expected to be
deliberately distorted. Relevant data will be ignored or misused;
citations will be occasionally -- often deceptively -- inaccurate;
methodologies will be inaccurately or inappropriately chosen;
"controls" will be improperly chosen, and the like. And the clear
goal will be to produce an easy-to-remember factoid for the news
media to use to suggest that firearms ownership is harmful and
And the third type of study will be a literature review, often
mostly rhetoric (Cotton, 1992), summarizing the results of the two
other types, and promising that in the future the public health
approach will actually result in finding ways to reduce the amount
of firearms-related violence (Kellermann et al., 1991; Rosenberg et
al., 1992; Mercy et al., 1993). Thus far, the CDC has made no
actual progress in treating violence as a disease, but has achieved
widespread acclaim for talking about it, much as the police in the
"Pirates of Penzance" sang at length of going off to confront the
pirates, finally eliciting the outburst, "Yes, but you don't go."
And those three types of studies will continue to be produced
and widely reported so long as social scientists and public health
professionals prefer to praise studies which reach conclusions they
like regardless of the methods used, and Congress does not actively
oversee how supposedly limited federal moneys are spent. It is
unclear whether the direction or strength of popular or political
views on firearms are affected one way or the other by such studies
or the media coverage of them.
1. One could observe, for example, that the "risk factor" most
commonly associated with premature death in the United States
is the M.D.
2. To bring back emotion, he tells of the near-fatal shooting of
a woman by her husband, a state trooper, who used his service
revolver and successfully won acquittal, claiming that the
shooting was accidental. It is unclear what action the CDC
would propose to prevent shootings by law enforcement
officers, or prevent their being able to claim the shootings
were accidental in a court of law. (Rosenberg, 1993)
3. Sometimes, of course, there is no basis for a statement. For
example, Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello felt compelled to
discuss firearms in her plenary remarks to a CDC-sponsored
conference on violence. (Novello, 1991) She said: "Today,
homicide and suicide are the second and third leading causes,
respectively, of death among children. Investigators believe
that ready access to loaded firearms in the home for children
under 15 is the chief contributing factor in unintentional
shootings, with an increase in the use of firearms a
paralleling an increase in violent deaths." Yet firearms
accidents, overall and among children, have been declining,
and her statements regarding homicide and suicide, while
perhaps accurate for slightly older age groups, are untrue
when speaking of children under 15, or even 1-14.
4. Public Law 99-649 essentially calls upon the CDC to study the
issue of injury to children, without defining that which is to
be studied. The bipartisan legislation was enacted at a time
when the data available to Congress would have shown trends
moving in the right direction. The legislative findings --
part of the Act of Congress -- asserted that injuries caused
the deaths of half of "children" 1-15 and two-thirds of all
deaths of "children" over the age of 15. In order for that to
be approximately true, Congress's view of "children" was that
they constituted persons aged 1-34 or 1-35. For younger
children over the age of one, the data available to Congress
would have indicated that injuries were the cause of 75-80% of
deaths. (NCHS, 1987) The legislative history of a bill to
study children's injury deaths also noted that injuries were
the leading cause of all deaths of persons aged 1-44 -- an
accurate statement, but perhaps a misleading suggestion about
possible definitions of children. U.S. Code Congressional and
Administrative News, 99th Congress, 2nd Session (1986) 6:6162.
5. An alternative wording of this in a resolution proposed at the
American Medical Association semi-annual meeting in December
1993 was that there have been more deaths by gunshot between
1933 and 1989 (1,209,199) than in all the United States wars
from the Revolutionary War to the present (1,177,956). In
addition to some obvious inaccuracy, the comparison is one of
apples and oranges. Wars, particularly American involvement
in wars, generally involve a tiny percentage of the
population, a very short span of time, and very high death
rates per 100,000; ordinary life represents the population as
a whole, with very low death rates from gunshot wounds. The
period for gunshot wounds, for example, covers a population of
100-250,000,000 and a period of 57 years; the period for war
actually involves less than 25 years and normally less than
500,000 American servicemen. The numbers are, of course,
fanciful: no precise numbers are known about either the
number of persons lost to gunshot wounds or to war during any
period of time.
6. In his health system reform speech in 1994, President William
J. Clinton expressed a similar sentiment, claiming health care
costs are driven up in part because "this is the only country
in the world where teenagers can roam the streets at random
with semi-automatic weapons and be better armed than the
police." Generally speaking, the guns used by police retail
at $300-800 and those used by teenagers at $50-350. If police
wished the same arms as teenagers, their departments could
save money by downgrading, with funds left over for care of
the officers injured when their new service arms jammed.
Regarding health care costs, gunshot wounds for all -- whether
caused by teenagers or adults -- account for approximately
one-fifth of one-percent of health care costs (U.S. Bureau of
the Census, 1992:97; Max and Rice, 1993) Total medical costs
for all injuries to persons 0-19 were estimated to be $5.1
billion (in 1987 dollars), of which 6.6% were attributable to
assaults and suicides (by whatever means inflicted) and
firearms accidents. (Malek et al., 1991:1003) So gunshot
injuries to teenagers probably account for about one-twentieth
of one percent of the nation's medical costs. And the
suggestion that teenagers can roam the streets with firearms
was addressed by Sheley et al. (1992:682): "[I]t is useful to
point out that nearly everything that leads to gun-related
violence among youths is already against the law. What is
needed are not new and more stringent gun laws but rather a
concerted effort to rebuilt the social structure of inner
7. A study in a major trauma center in Los Angeles of the 60% of
shootings which could be treated on an outpatient basis after
emergency-room treatment, found that 91% of cases involved
single missiles from handguns, 3% multiple missiles, with
rifles -- the most common type of the so-called "assault
weapon" -- used in 3% of cases, only 5% involved high-velocity
missiles, and none were reported to involve tissue damage from
shock waves often rhetorically associated with military-style
rifles. Even if the more serious injuries were somewhat more
apt to involve such firearms, the percentage would remain
fairly low. And 80% of the injuries studied involved the
drive-by shootings rhetorically associated with military-style
semi-automatics. (Ordog et al., 1994)
8. It is unclear what Houk was thinking of, since the total
number of motor vehicle deaths peaked at about 56,000, and the
number per 100-million vehicle miles has been declining fairly
steadily for the past decade, unsteadily in the '70s, and was
stable in the '60s, so the rate has been cut in half since
1960 -- a bit less than the rate of accidental firearms
fatalities. That is, of course, comparing rate per 100,000
population to rate per 100,000,000 motor-vehicle miles. Doing
both on a rate per 100,000 population, with strict regulation,
improved cars and highways, lowered speed limits, and
registration and licensing, the motor vehicle accidental death
rate fell about 11% between 1960 and 1990, while the
accidental death rate from firearms fell over 50%. (National
Safety Council, 1993:33)
9. Similarly, Fingerhut and Kleinman (1990) looked at variations
in the homicide rates, and gun use in homicide, across the
state lines for half of the states, indicating an interest in
the possible effectiveness of restrictive firearms laws,
without noting that the gun laws fluctuated greatly in the
states involved. They ignored the fact that, in the various
states -- especially among blacks (a supposed CDC area of
focus) -- restrictive laws were associated with higher
homicide rates and lenience and availability with lower rates.
Similarly, while they suggested firearms laws and availability
might explain differences internationally, no effort was made
to determine gun laws or availability in the nations cited.
And, while noting that the American homicide rates were "four
to eight times higher than the rates in most other countries,"
they failed to note that the same was true of robbery, where
American firearms involvement is about 40%, and rape, where
guns are used less than 10% of the time. (INTERPOL, n.d.; FBI,
1993; BJS, 1989:64)
The 1994 CDC report notes that there have been some
legislative efforts to curb firearm-related injuries and
deaths, but says "efforts to evaluate these approaches have
been limited." Actually, of course, thanks to Gary Kleck's
Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (1991), awarded the
1993 Michael J. Hindelang Award by the American Society of
Criminology as the book from "the past two to three years that
makes the most outstanding contribution to criminology,"
evaluative effort has been extensive. Kleck's is not among
the three works cited by the CDC.
10. Accuracy of citation is not the strong suit of Kellermann and
his colleagues. This miscitation of surveys followed the
study which cited two FBI sources for the proposition that
"Less than 2 percent of homicides nationally are considered
legally justifiable." Neither source reported that figure.
The FBI did not then report data on the number of homicides
police thought might be legally justifiable, and still does
not collect data on the number determined by prosecutors or
others to be legally justifiable. Their next study cited
Wright et al.(1983) to support the assertion that "restricting
access to handguns could substantially reduce our annual rate
of homicide." (Sloan et al., 1988:1256) Wright et al.
considered and dismissed the theory as not demonstrated.
11. Although the public health profession is not responsible for
media going beyond their studies, Kellermann may have had some
chance to make sure NBC News understood what the situation was
in Vancouver when interviewed for an NBC news segment
discussing whether handguns should be banned. Using the
Vancouver/Seattle study, NBC reported that in Vancouver there
is a handgun ban. (NBC Evening News, January 27, 1994) There
is not; handgun ownership is restricted to sporting purposes,
which generally involves joining a gun club.
12. A more imaginative effort at ad hominem criticism occurred
when Kellermann wished to suggest that the theory that, absent
a firearm, a potential suicide would simply use a different
method, was flawed. He and his colleagues first cited a
letter to the New England Journal of Medicine where the
substitution theory was enunciated by an employee of the NRA,
but the employee's affiliation could not properly be included
in the citation, so they then cited a paper by the same
person, where the substitution theory was not mentioned, but
the NRA could arguably be listed as the "publisher."
(Kellermann et al., 1992:467, 472)
13. If the article were right that the chance of being killed is
increased by 2.7 times if a gun is owned, that means the
chances rise to about one in 15,000 that the average gun owner
will be murdered in his or her home each year. The chance
that a gun owner will use a gun for protection each year is
better than one in 50. Protective gun use is not a rare event
requiring or benefitting from case-control methodology.
14. Kellermann et al. believe underreporting of gun ownership is
not a problem based on a study of whether ownership was
accurately reported in "a pilot study of homes listed as the
addresses of owners of registered handguns...." (Kellermann et
al., 1993:1089) It is certainly possible that persons in
households where gun ownership has been reported to the
authorities will also more willingly report it to pollsters.
15. Using FBI data, the following is the number of homicides per
year before and after a gun law was enacted which took full
effect in February 1977 -- although Loftin et al. prefer to
use the late-September 1976 date, in Washington and Baltimore.
(By quarter, the number of homicides in the District from the
last quarter of 1974 through the last quarter of 1978 were:
90; 56, 59, 66, 55; 57, 51, 38, 42; 50, 50, 51, 41; 37, 49,
1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981
Washington 245 268 277 235 188 192 189 180 200 223
Baltimore 330 280 293 259 200 171 197 245 216 228
In 1987, the last year of the Loftin et al. study, Baltimore
had 226 homicides and the District 225. The 1992 figures were
335 and 443, respectively, although Loftin et al. had
concluded that, but for the gun law, the post-1987 trend would
have been worse in the District.
16. While not generally enthusiastic about the National Rifle
Association, an article in the Washington Post described the
NRA's "Eddie Eagle" book on firearms safety education for
children as "[a] must for any parent who keeps a gun in the
home." (January 7, 1992, p. B5) Others have refused to
consider using the "Eddie Eagle" program, while admitting it
to be a good program, because of the policies of the NRA. It
is apparently more important to avoid the appearance of
endorsement of NRA policies than to promote child safety.
17. The basis for the study was 47 suicides in western
Pennsylvania (Brent et al., 1991), and a letter to the editor
described it as a small-scale study (Blackman, 1992). The
authors responded that it was not really small scale, since it
replicated an earlier study involving 27 suicides (Brent and
18. Blackman suggested that perhaps the higher level of gun
ownership among non-disturbed teenagers than, overall, among
the mentally disturbed, might mean there is a positive
relationship between firearms in the home and mental health,
suggesting more study of the hypothesis. The authors
responded oddly, ignoring the fact that none of their study
involved any mentally healthy teenager, that: "Both the
suicide victims and suicide attempters were psychiatrically
ill, but the rate of firearm ownership was higher in families
of suicide victims, suggesting that there is no relationship
between psychiatric illness in an adolescent and gun
availability." (Blackman, 1992a; Brent and Perper, 1992)
19. Doctors sometimes have trouble with simple arithmetic. When
a representative for the anti-animal testing Physicians
Committee for Responsible Medicine wrote to the JAMA claiming
to speak for 3,000 physician-members, the official AMA
response was to belittle the figure by noting that "its
membership represents less than 0.005% of the total US
physician population." (JAMA 268:789)
20. If, and to the extent, survey questions are improved, trend
knowledge will be distorted or delayed.
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