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How Your Tax Dollars Demonize Your Guns

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“It is precisely as if medical researchers found that insulin use is more common among persons who suffer from diabetes than among those who are not diabetic (something that is most assuredly true), and concluded that insulin use raises one’s risk of diabetes.”

Or as Jacob Sullum quipped on, it’s like discovering that people who are wearing parachutes are much more likely to suffer injuries from falling than people who don’t wear parachutes—the risk comes from jumping out of a plane, not from wearing a parachute.

The Philadelphia Inquirer should be commended for interviewing three outside experts about the story. Unfortunately, most of the coverage in the rest of America’s so-called “mainstream” media simply reported the study’s shaky conclusion as if it were a proven fact.

After its release, Kleck wrote a short essay about the Penn study blasting it as “the very epitome of junk science in the guns-and-violence field—poor quality research designed to arrive at an ideologically predetermined conclusion.”

Kleck noted the authors had announced guns do not have protective value, yet the authors had not even studied whether a single victim even used a gun defensively.

The Penn article, Kleck wrote, “is merely a reflection of the fact that the same factors that place people at greater risk of becoming assault victims also motivate many people to acquire, and in some cases carry away from home, guns for self-protection … For example, being a drug dealer or member of a street gang puts one at much higher risk of being shot, but also makes it far more likely one will acquire a gun for protection.”

Research on people who actually use guns for protection shows the opposite of what Branas and his colleagues claim. Kleck and Jongyeon Tark examined data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, an annual study by the Census Bureau and the Department of Justice that asks individuals if they were crime victims in the last year and, if so, collects information about the circumstances.

Of those who used guns defensively, the Kleck and Tark study found only 2 percent were injured after they used guns. (“Resisting Crime: The Effects of Victim Action on the Outcomes of Crimes.” Criminology, vol. 42, 2005.)

These findings were consistent with previous studies of actual defensive gun use, which found such use does not increase the victim’s risk of harm: Gary Kleck, “Crime Control Through the Private Use of Armed Force,” Social Problems, 1988; Gary Kleck & Miriam A. Delone, “Victim Resistance and Offender Weapon Effects in Robbery,” Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 1993; Lawrence Southwick, “Self-Defense With Guns”, Journal of Criminal Justice, 2000.

But the Philadelphia story was not marketed for people who are familiar with social science studies of defensive gun use. It is simply a propaganda tool for people who unquestioningly believe newspaper accounts of what scientists say—and who never notice that their local paper prominently promotes anti-gun studies but never reports the release of studies about the safety benefits of gun ownership.

Unfortunately, one thing is clear: Much more of the same type of disinformation—funded by your hard-earned tax dollars—is likely to come our way in coming months and years.

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