Gun Violence as a Disease?

February 24, 2013

By Nancy Thorner and Ed Ingold

The liberal-intellectual community plays on the technical illiteracy of the general population. They use half-truths and vague conclusions, couched in jargon, to promote their viewpoints.

In the coming days you will most likely hear a great deal about the danger of keeping a firearm in the house as the gun violence debate rages on in Congress.   President Obama, in a  plan presented last month to reduce gun violence, resolved to order the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to resume scientific studies on the issue, after such research was banned since the mid-1990’s.

Harold Pollack, co-director of the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago applauded Obama’s move, believing that knowing more about gun violence will result in being able to provide more effective law enforcement and public policy.  Not so for Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who at a recent speech of the Senate floor made these remarks:  “Gun violence is not a disease.  And lawful gun ownership is not a disease.  It is a constitutionally protected, individual right.”

The 1993 study which is presently stirring passionate emotions on both sides of the gun violence issue, and which Obama wants to resume, was conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) under a grant by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The most cited conclusion of this study suggests that homicide is three times (2.7) more likely to occur in households with a gun than those without.  When issued gun advocates blasted the research.

The analysis is so deeply flawed that it is difficult to know where to begin. The paper is couched in statistical jargon, which makes it difficult for a layman to interpret. The NEJM is devoted to “clinical” studies, which itself is jargon for poring over clinical data looking for correlations. It is often suspected that the conclusions are established before the data is ever examined. Because these studies tend to be sensational (seem to differ from “common sense”), the NEJM attracts a lot of attention from the media. The conclusions of these articles are often vague or missing altogether (as herein), so the newsmen are left to their own devices in their interpretation. In that regard, laptop computers may be more dangerous to our freedom than a few loaded guns lying about.

  • First of all, the cited conclusion is not a correct interpretation of the study itself. The 2.7 ratio is the probability that having a gun in the home is a significant factor in homicide (chi square ratio). In other words, the probability it has an effect, not the magnitude of that effect. The ratio for other factors include problem drinking (20.0), use of illicit drugs (6.8), living in a rented house (5.9), or domestic quarrels resulting in injuries (10.2).
  • The study included only households (388) in which a homicide occurred
  • Suicides are lumped with other homicides. Statistically, 2/3rds of homicides are due to suicide. People tend to kill themselves in the least painful way possible. If guns aren’t available, then there are plenty of alternatives. The suicide rate is about the same (12) in Britain and the US, and half that of japan (22) where no firearms are allowed.
  • The sample is not representative – 62% of the victims were black (11.2% of the population) and the median income of these households was in the bottom quartile.

It is only natural that the biased nature of the1993 CDC study (coupled with the fact that the CDC seems to equate gun ownership with “disease”), is raising furor in Congress.  The outrage is well placed by gun owners.

Not to be forgotten is that anti-gun control language that has found its way into another government agency, the Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) under the direction of Kathleen Sebelius.  In a report issued on January 16 by the White House outlining the Obama administration’s proposals to curb gun violence, clarified was that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including discussion about firearms, but  doctors are permitted to ask their patients about gun safety if they elect to do so.

How long might it take before a mandate has been issued for doctors to act as the eyes and ears for government as the means  to locate and remove guns considered health hazards to children from law abiding parents, caregivers, and citizens? At the very least, there is the specter of the “Little Red Schoolhouse” behind the “Iron Curtain”, where children were encouraged to denounce their parents.

Let’s not spend money foolishly on things which don’t work. At the very least the money is wasted. At worst, it will encourage researchers to cherry-pick data to reach conclusions they perceive will please the Administration and grant them a few minutes of fame in the “New York Times” (or “Rolling Stone”).



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