WHEN DOCTORS CALL FOR GUN SEIZURES, IT'S GRAND MALPRACTICE

by J. Neil Schulman

Abraham Lincoln once told a visitor to the White House, "It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all the time."

We in the United States are about to test Lincoln's wisdom, and our own. While lying for political purpose is nothing new, it's hard to think of another time in our national history when the most trusted of all professionals, medical doctors, were willing to deliberately lie about the conclusions of supposedly unbiased scientific research for political purpose.

Anybody who's studied the stock market knows it's common knowledge that when women's skirts have gone up, the prices of stocks have gone up also, but no one is foolish enough to claim that by shortening women's skirts we can cause a stock market boom.

That sort of common sense, however, doesn't seem to hold when the subject is the so-called epidemiology of "gun violence," and medical researchers are sniffing for statistics to prove their predetermined conclusion that gun control is desirable public policy.

The point to this research is the contention that doctors can study firearms-related violence as an epidemiologic health issue apart from the motives of the people who pull the trigger ... which is the proper study of that branch of sociology known as criminology. By this premise alone, epidemiologists discard the humanistic premise of personal volition in favor of a mechanistic view of human behavior which denies a fundamental difference between the contagion of microbic cultures and human cultures: microbes don't act on their value-judgments and people do.

The latest outbreak of statisticitis emerges from the study led by Arthur L. Kellermann, M.D., published in the October 7, 1993 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, and financed by the Center for Disease Control. A previous Kellermann-led study published in the June 12, 1986 NEJM, also financed by the CDC, gave us the factoid that you are 43 times likelier to die from a handgun kept in the home from homicide, suicide, or accident than you are to kill a burglar with it. [1] By the time this factoid turned into the mega-soundbyte used by gun-control advocates in the media and Congress, you were supposedly 43 times as likely to die from a handgun kept in the home than to protect yourself from a burglar with it. [2]

Kellermann, himself, cautioned against that conclusion saying, "Mortality studies such as ours do not include cases in which burglars or intruders are wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm. Cases in which would-be intruders may have purposely avoided a house known to be armed are also not identified. We did not report the total number of nonlethal firearm injuries involving guns kept in the home. A complete determination of firearm risks versus benefits would require that these figures be known."

Kellermann's latest "population-based case-control study" of homicides throws such caution to the wind. He attempts to quantify "firearm risks versus benefits" by comparing households where a homicide occurred with households where no homicide occurred in three counties, chosen for their convenient location to the researchers. After correcting for several other risk factors such as alcohol or illicit-drug-use, previous domestic violence, and persons with criminal records in the 316 matched households ultimately compared, Kellermann determined that households where "homicide at the hands of a family member or intimate acquaintance" occurred were almost three times likelier to have kept a loaded handgun in the home than control households where such a homicide did not occur. From this determination, Kellermann concludes, "Although firearms are often kept in the home for personal protection, this study shows that the practice is counterproductive. Our data indicate that keeping a gun in the home is independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide in the home."

An immediate technical problem with Kellermann's methods is raised by David N. Cowen, Ph.D., in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine. Cowen charges that Kellermann's research grouped together socially dysfunctional people -- for example, the chronically unemployable -- with normal people, and thus any other risk factors would be inseparable.

Another problem is that by relying on a case study of households with homicide victims, Kellermann is looking at almost twice as many black households as white, and only a handful of Asian households -- far too few to be statistically useful. African- Americans are homicide victims way out of proportion to other racial or ethnic groupings, and any case study of homicides has to live with this demographic distortion. The problem is that studying homicide within the African-American culture may not produce conclusions which are generalizable to other racial or ethnic groups. According to Don Kates, a criminologist with the Pacific Research Institute, "African-Americans have greater death rates than other population groups for drowning, other accidents, and diseases." Other sociological studies note crude differences between African-Americans and Asian-Americans in divorce rates, school drop-out rates, father-absent households, and so forth.

A more basic problem with Kellermann's conclusion is that it attempts to draw a reverse implication from a set of facts. Certainly it will be true that people who own parachutes will die more frequently in falls from airplanes than people who don't -- but does that mean that parachute- ownership constitutes an increased risk factor for death by falling from an airplane? Wouldn't logic tell us that the risk of dying as a result of falling from an airplane would be far greater by those people who fall from airplanes who don't have a parachute handy?

Kellermann tells us, "We found no evidence of a protective benefit from gun ownership in any subgroup, including one restricted to cases of homicide that followed forced entry into the home and another restricted to cases in which resistance was attempted."

This is where Kellermann's study is completely disingenuous, and indicates -- as does his financing and publication by gun- control zealots James Mercy at the Center for Disease Control and Jerome P. Kassirer, editor of The New England Journal of Medicine --that the intent of these studies is to produce pro- gun-control sound-bytes for Sarah Brady rather than scientific knowledge.

Kellermann is studying only those persons living in a household with a loaded handgun where a handgun failed to save the victim's life. We're being shown only the murder victims, not gun-owners whose firearms saved their lives. Kellermann's study didn't document whether a firearm used in a particular homicide was the same one kept in the home, or whether it might have been carried in by the murderer. Kellermann doesn't even tell us whether the murder weapon belonged to the victim or the murderer. And Kellermann still doesn't ask the questions he, himself, said would be necessary for "a complete determination of firearms risks versus benefits": "cases in which burglars or intruders are wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm ... Cases in which would-be intruders may have purposely avoided a house known to be armed [and] the total number of nonlethal firearm injuries involving guns kept in the home."

Dr. Kellermann can't study such questions because these are the proper focus not of medical doctors, but of criminologists. And when we shift from the medical paradigm of "gun violence" as a health issue, to the criminological paradigm of "offenders and victims," we get a completely different vision.

Immediately we discover that the cases in which Kellermann perceives an increased risk factor --"homicide at the hands of a family member or intimate acquaintance" -- are, according to both the FBI's Crime in the United States, 1992, and Murder Analysis, 1992 by the Detective Division of the Chicago Police -- only around 10% of the yearly homicides in this country. In the Chicago study, 36.8% of the homicides occurred in or around the home -- including public housing. In the three counties in which his study was conducted, Kellermann tells us that 23.9% took place in the home of the victim. Kellermann also tells us, "Guns were not significantly linked to an increased risk of homicide by acquaintances, unidentified intruders, or strangers."

What this adds up to is that while home is where you are far less likely to be murdered by a stranger -- not surprising since homes usually have locks to keep such people out -- the great majority of murders that do take place at home are at the hands of those who have a key. The caution here might well be that if you live with someone whom you think might possibly murder you, you might want to move out if they also keep a loaded handgun. Or, if the loaded handgun is yours, you might want to keep it somewhere where you can get to it faster than he or she can.

The thrust of Kellermann's contention, that the mere availability of a loaded handgun is an increased risk factor to the general population, is also countered by comparing the 69% increase in the number of handguns in private hands from 1974 to 1988 to the 27% decrease in handgun murders during that same period. [3] Therefore even though the increase in handguns and handgun murders were found the previous 15-year time period, no conclusion regarding cause and effect can be drawn.

The answer which Kellermann says we need to discover -- the overall usefulness of firearms in self-defense -- is to be found in the definitive analysis of a dozen studies in the book Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (Aldine de Gruyter, 1991), by Gary Kleck, Ph.D., professor of criminology at Florida State University. Unlike Kellermann, Professor Kleck has carefully avoided taking funding from advocates in the gun- control debate, and Kleck's impeccable liberal Democratic credentials -- membership in Common Cause and Amnesty International, for example -- preclude a presumption of conservative or pro-NRA bias. Kleck's analysis of these studies had produced an estimate of around 650,000 handgun defenses per year, and over a million gun defenses if one included all firearms.

Kleck's latest research, his Spring, 1993 National Self- Defense Survey of 4979 households, reveals that previous studies had underestimated the number of times previous survey respondents had used their firearms in defense. The new survey projected 2.4 million gun defenses in 1992, 1.9 million of them with handguns, and about 72% of these gun defenses occurred in or near the home. This indicates a successful gun defense with no dead body for Dr. Kellermann to find about 1,728,000 times a year. Even if we were to accept Dr. Kellermann's reverse implication that a home-dweller who lives with a loaded handgun suffers a three-fold increased risk of homicide from a family member or intimate acquaintance, the handgun's usefulness in warding off potentially lethal confrontations against burglars is enormous.

Murder Analysis, 1992 by the Detective Division of the Chicago Police tells us that 72.39% of the murderers they studied in 1992 had a prior criminal history and, interestingly, 65.53% of the murder victims did as well.

Further, a recent National Institute of Justice analysis finds, "It is clear that only a very small fraction of privately owned firearms are ever involved in crime or [unlawful] violence, the vast bulk of them being owned and used more or less exclusively for sport and recreational purposes, or for self- protection." [4]

Criminologist Don Kates, concurs in an article titled "Guns, Murder, and the Constitution": "Concurrently, it has been estimated that 98.32% of owners do not use a gun in an unlawful homicide (over a 50-year, adult life span)."

Here is the essential truth about the risk of homicide which all the talk about violence as a health problem, rather than a criminal problem, is attempting to ignore: overwhelmingly, violence isn't a matter of ordinary people killing because a firearm is handy, but of criminals committing violence because violence is a way of life for them. The National Rifle Association has been saying this for years, but anti-gun crusaders just don't want to listen.

When the federal Center for Disease Control starts defining bullets as "pathogens" and declares that honest gun owners are the Typhoid Marys of a "gun-violence epidemic," the medical profession has lent its scientific credibility to a radical political agenda which threatens to increase the overall violence in our society by shifting the balance of power toward the well-armed psychopath, and destabilize our system of government by restricting the people's arms, which are a fundamental check on ambitious tyrants.

That this propaganda is being engineered by a committed gun-control advocate at the Federal Center for Disease Control, James Mercy, who is diverting taxpayers' money away from the study of real diseases such as AIDS, makes this politicized science even more shocking.

Those who decide that a handgun is a useful tool for protection against the criminals among us can rest assured that the risks of being victimized with that firearm by their husbands, wives, and other loved ones are still massively outweighed by their firearm's ability to keep evil strangers at bay. [5]

Advocates of the right to keep and bear arms need to be especially aware that gun owners are the intended targets of the Center for Disease Control's disinformation campaign against privately held firearms. James Mercy and his tax-financed minions are well aware that with half the households in the United States keeping firearms, the American people can't be disarmed without their cooperation. The only way they can gain that cooperation is by tricking gun owners into thinking that their firearms, and their neighbors' firearms, are more of a danger than they are an effective defensive tool.

In this particular gunfight, the best ammunition is the truth.


Footnotes:

1. Thirty-seven of those 43 deaths were suicide; eliminating suicide immediately drops the claimed figure to "six times likelier." We can eliminate suicide from our analysis of gun-effects immediately. The American Journal of Psychiatry from March, 1990 reported in a study by Rich, Young, Fowler, Wagner,and Black that all gun-suicides which were statistically reduced in the five years following Canada's handgun restrictions beginning 1976 were substituted 100% by suicides using other methods, mostly jumping off bridges. Therefore, eliminating firearms does not eliminate suicide: it merely shifts the suicide to other causes, and no rational public policy can conclude that the availability of firearms is a causative factor.

2. On the syndicated TV Mo Show, in January, 1994, a spokeswoman for the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence even asserted that a gun kept in the home was "43 times as likely to kill a child than to offer protection against a burglar."

3. Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (Aldine de Gruyter, 1991), by Gary Kleck, Ph.D.

4. J. Wright & P. Rossi, NIJ Felon Survey 4

5. If you compare the National Self Defense Survey's estimated 1,728,000 gun defenses in or around a home in one year with a conservatively high estimate of gun-related homicides and fatal gun accidents in the home in a year -- at most about 8,000 -- one can compute that a gun kept in the home for protection is about 216 times as likely to be used in a defense against a criminal than it is to cause the death of an innocent victim in that household.


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