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How Your Tax Dollars Demonize Your Guns


by Dave Kopel

How the federal government is back in the business of funding studies that promote gun bans … more than a decade after Congress put an end to the practice.

The federal government has resumed the Clinton-era ideological offensive against gun ownership. The opening salvo was fired recently by the federal National Institutes of Health, with a new study purporting to show that gun ownership increases the risk of being shot by 4.5 times.

To really understand what’s going on here, however, let’s go back a few years.

The gun prohibition movement recognizes, correctly, that its objectives will be very difficult to achieve politically as long as so many Americans own firearms. Accordingly, scaring Americans away from gun ownership is an essential component of their long-term strategy. Put simply, fewer gun owners equals fewer gun-rights activists.

Obviously, this fear-of-guns strategy won’t work on NRA members and others who are already familiar and comfortable with firearms, but it could work on people who might be considering buying guns. And it also can be effective in convincing a spouse to veto his or her partner’s contemplated gun purchase.

Because of the great successes in controlling communicable diseases in recent decades, government entities that were set up for the purpose of disease control have looked to expand their operations into other fields—to assure their continued long-term funding.

So back in the 1980s, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) decided guns were a “public health” issue and began funding more and more research on guns and gun control. Some of what was produced was valuable social science, but a great deal was “junk” science, patently designed to create prohibitionist talking points.

Those involved were not shy about discussing their gun-ban goals.

Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who was then director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, explained his aim was to make the public see firearms as “dirty, deadly—and banned.” (Quoted in William Raspberry, “Sick People With Guns,” The Washington Post, Oct. 19, 1994.)

A newspaper article on two other leading anti-gun propagandists, Dr. Katherine Christoffel and Dr. Robert Tanz of the Children’s Hospital in Chicago, explained their “plan to do to handguns what their profession has done to cigarettes … turn gun ownership from a personal-choice issue to a repulsive, anti-social health hazard.” (Harold Henderson, “Policy: Guns ‘n Poses,” Chicago Reader, Dec. 16, 1994.)

Many of the propaganda articles were widely disseminated by a credulous media eager to tout supposedly scientific proof that guns were bad. The most popular of these articles was built around a one-sentence factoid that asserted the dangers of guns far outweighed the protective benefits.

Finally, in 1996, Congress cut off gun control funding for the CDC—mainly because the NRA demonstrated to legislators the CDC was buying political misinformation rather than science.

Now, 14 years later, your tax dollars are once against being used to fund a campaign against your rights through the federal National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In mid-September, the University of Pennsylvania released a study paid for by the nih with $639,586 of your tax dollars. The study’s “conclusion” claimed people who possessed guns are 4.5 times more likely to be shot than people who do not possess them.

As usual, media all over the country publicized this latest “good” news. Gun-ban groups jumped on the bandwagon.

Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke announced: “The study’s findings show once again the risks of gun ownership and how having more guns correlates with more gun violence. This research severely undermines the argument by gun pushers that carrying a gun automatically makes a person safer. In urban areas, gun possessors, far from being protected by their guns, are at an increased risk of harm. Restrictions on carrying guns clearly make sense as a smart public safety strategy.”

The lead author of the study was Dr. Charles C. Branas of the Firearm and Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. He was assisted by four Penn colleagues, including Douglas J. Wiebe of the Firearm and Injury Center.

The researchers interviewed shooting victims in Philadelphia within a few days of being shot and tried to find the ones who possessed guns at the time of their shootings. About three-quarters cooperated. Although the study included people who were killed, it does not explain how data was gathered about them. Perhaps it came from police reports or interviews of people who knew the deceased.

The researchers then used random telephone calls to try to find a “control”—a similar person who had not been shot. They attempted to find persons who lived in neighborhoods with similar economic and racial characteristics, who had similar income levels and so on.

This is called the “case-control method.” The shooting victim is the “case” and the other person is the “control.” Case-control has been used successfully in genuine medical research, most famously in the studies showing that smokers were much more likely to get lung cancer.

Case-control is also widely used in anti-gun research, although with considerably less validity, partly because finding “controls” who really match the subjects is much more difficult.

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