Gun Control Advocates Tout Flawed Study

July 15, 2019


Matthew Hoy

The journal Pediatrics today released a study purporting to show that states with tougher gun laws (as judged by the Brady Campaign) results in a 35 percent decrease in "youth" firearms deaths. Children, as defined by the study, include those up to 21 years of age. In other words, not children.

This is not a serious study.

“Our findings demonstrate a powerful association between the strength of firearm legislation and pediatric firearm-related mortality,” the study’s lead author, director of research in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children's National Health System, Monika K. Goyal, M.D., said in a statement from the AAP. “This association remains strong even after we adjust for rates of firearm ownership and other population variables, such as education level, race/ethnicity and household income.”

These numbers don’t just affect a small group of children. During the five-year period the researchers studied, over 20,000 kids died of firearm-related injuries. These numbers align with a 2017 study from Pediatrics stating that firearm injuries are the third leading cause of death among kids in the U.S.

Again, the only way you get anywhere near approximately 4,000 dead "children" a year is if you count those in their late teens into early 20s. The CDC reports [see page 33] that the rate of firearms deaths in 2017 for those aged 1-4 is 0.5 per 100,000 people. For those 5-14 it is 1.1 per 100,000.

Add in 15-24 year olds and the rate jumps to 17.7 per 100,000. These are not children.

The NRA Responds to Study

The National Rifle Association has seen this sort of thing before.

“Any social scientist worth their salt would question a study that cherry picks a microscopic 5-year time window of data when there is more than 50 years of data available,” NRA spokesperson Lars Dalseide tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Add that to the fact that they did not find causality, they used an arbitrary (at best) metric to measure gun laws, and they included adults in a study about children suggests this study is more propaganda than scientific research.”

Interestingly, one of the metrics that the study used to measure the toughness of a state's gun laws was whether it has background checks for ammunition purchases. California has had that requirement for all of two weeks, but it's passage apparently has some effect on gun deaths from 2010-2015, more than four years before it went into effect.

The study also touts the passage of "firearm identification laws."

Furthermore, laws regarding firearm identification faced challenges at the state level in both California and Maryland. In 2013, California expanded its firearm identification laws and was the first state to pass a microstamping requirement for all new handguns. However, the law faced multiple legal challenges, and gun manufacturers refused to sell new handguns in the state to avoid this requirement. Additionally, in Maryland, a ballistics fingerprinting program that had been in place for almost 15 years was repealed in 2015.17 Therefore, it may be too early to study the impact of microstamping or ballistics identification on preventing firearm-related injury.

Maryland abandoned its ballistics fingerprinting program because over the 15 year period it was in effect it was successfully used to solve exactly zero crimes. California's microstamping requirement is a failure not because gun manufacturers have refused to sell new handguns with it, but because the technology does not exist. How a law which requires impossibilities and exists on no firearm sold anywhere in the world somehow reduces "child" firearms deaths is unclear.

Other Problems With the Study

National Review Online's Robert Verbruggen also has some issues with the study.

Normally, if you want to know what effect a law has, you look to see what changed before and after it went into effect. Do states that enact the law experience different trends relative to states that don’t? This study doesn’t do that; though it combines five years’ worth of data, it just compares gun-death rates across states with various scores from the anti-gun Brady Campaign. It’s “cross-sectional,” in other words. It doesn’t tell us whether the laws actually do anything, or if states with fewer gun deaths are more likely to enact the laws to begin with.

You can add assorted “control variables” to make these comparisons a bit better, and the authors do, but at the end of the day this is not compelling. It’s not rigorous enough to even be included in the RAND Corporation gun-study review I wrote about last year, which quite sensibly excluded cross-sectional research entirely.

Trolling the Study

Verbruggen also notes an issue with the study's numbers that indicate a potential issue the study's authors would rather you ignore.

Just to troll, though, I’ll point out that the study included gun ownership as a control variable, and the result for that variable is statistically insignificant, meaning we can’t be confident that gun ownership is correlated with gun deaths at all. If anything, in fact, the result suggests that having a gun-ownership rate above the national median reduces gun deaths by 4 percent, coincidentally the same reduction the researchers claim for a ten-point higher Brady score.

Perhaps the take home from the study isn't that legislatures should pass more gun laws, but that citizens should buy guns and ammo.

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