A Study About Other Studies Says Guns Are Dangerous – Oh Really?

My sister sent me an email this morning with a link to a Daily Beast article headlined “Study Finds People With Guns More At-Risk For Suicide And Homicide“.  After reading it, several things come to mind.  I think a discussion of this article is relevant to my blog and decided to write this response.

One thing I have learned over the last thirteen months of my Second Amendment journey is that it is possible to find blog posts, studies, polls, news articles, charts, graphs and other data to support just about any conceivable point of view in the gun debate.

When presented with an opinion piece such as this, the first thing I look for is where it is published.  If it is published by a left-leaning source – as The Daily Beast is – I will automatically assume that it is going to have an anti-gun bias and proceed with a critical reading keeping that thought in mind.

This article, written by Daily Beast contributor Brandy Zadrozny starts off by saying  “…when it comes to the large and complicated question of whether people with guns are actually safer because of that ownership, the research supports the notion that proximity to a lethal weapon creates a greater likelihood of bodily harm and death.”

After making that statement, she mentions (but does not link) a new meta-analysis of gun research – supposedly the first of its kind – from the University of California at San Francisco published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

She cites the lead author of the study, Dr. Andrew Anglemyer as a U.S. Army veteran (as if that gives him an automatic pro-gun bias but is otherwise irrelevant) and quotes him as saying that his team identified 14 of 15 studies that “…reported significantly increased odds of death associated with firearm access.”  Further, males are more likely to use a gun to commit suicide and females are most likely to be homicide victims, especially in a domestic violence situation.

Ms. Zadrozny then goes on to throw out a NRA straw man argument and shoot it down by citing “…the well-documented theory of impulsivity as the driving force in these [suicide] deaths…”   For “well-documented”, she provides a link to an abstract of one study finding that 24% percent of 153 subjects acted impulsively.  This is hardly well-documented or conclusive evidence, in my opinion.

Before I accept this meta-analysis as a basis for agreeing that proximity to guns makes people less safe, I want to know the answers to the following questions:

  1. The authors used a pool of 15 studies to conduct their meta-analysis.  How many studies were available?  Are the criteria by which they included or excluded various studies appropriate and reasonable? If they had used a different set of studies, would their results have been different?

  2. I did not see that this study was peer-reviewed prior to publication.  Have other epidemiologists, statisticians, economists and other qualified individuals reviewed the data, the statistical methods used, etc.?  Are the control factors and statistical assumptions used generally accepted for this type of meta-analysis?
  3. Did they control for other relevant factors in the homicide/suicide incidences within the given populations studied?  Would different control factors have changed their results?

In any event, these results if accurate do not support the claim that access to firearms necessarily puts people more at risk for suicide and homicide.

The United States ranks 33rd in suicide rates.  Several countries with very restrictive or no civilian gun ownership have substantially higher suicide rates (including South Korea, China, Japan, France and Cuba).  Other countries with high per capita firearms ownership rates (including Switzerland and Sweden) have lower suicide rates.

Men have a higher rate of “completed suicide” with the most used methods including hanging, carbon-monoxide poisoning and use of guns.  This is a known fact and there are many methods of ending one’s life that do not include using a firearm.  In the case of a suicide, proximity to firearms just means that the individual has one of the means close at hand and available.  Lacking this one tool, the person determined to kill him or herself will always find a way.

As far as women being victims of homicide by gun, perhaps this accounts for why women are arguably the largest growing segment of gun owners and concealed carry practitioners.  The female Second Amendment supporters I know are no less passionate about protecting themselves and their families than the men are.  The most visible evidence of this phenomenon is the organization 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control, Inc.  They are a vocal, articulate and effective voice of the women who support the Second Amendment in America.  To learn more I recommend looking at their Facebook page or their website.  I’m proud to follow them on Twitter as well.

The incident that gave rise to this conversation between my sister and me was the shooting of an unarmed patron in a Florida movie theater allegedly by a retired police officer who was carrying a concealed weapon.  There is no doubt that he acted impulsively and that he will most likely spend the rest of his life behind bars for that moment of evil stupidity.  I will also say that nobody I know in the Second Amendment community supports, condones or excuses his actions – quite the opposite is true, in fact.  Even though the man is innocent until proven guilty, I deplore his action and his failure to remove himself from a confrontation that was escalating to violence. 

If one is looking for an opinion piece to reinforce their belief that “guns are bad”, look no further.  Ms. Zadrozny’s article and the study she discusses will fit the bill admirably.  However, as the authors readily admit “Our review has limitations. First, our conclusions are only as good as the data and studies that we identified.”  In the next six paragraphs they describe some of the limitations and biases they employed and point out possible errors.  In other words, this study is far from rock-solid, conclusive evidence for the conclusion reached by Zadrozny and The Daily Beast.

By Richard D. Turnquist

January 21, 2014


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