Epidemic of Gun Violence, or More Lies?by Dr. Paul Gallant
"Gunshot Wounds Reaching Epidemic Level, Doctors Say", or so claimed an Associated Press story. It failed to note that funding for the study came from the Joyce Foundation, benefactor of gun-banning activities and groups.
Quoted prominently was Dr. William Schwab, co-author of a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. "It is time to consider gunshot wounds a public health epidemic - akin to AIDS, alcoholism and tobacco use", declared Schwab. Rubbish! If guns were a disease, Kennesaw, Georgia would be a ghost town, by now.
In 1982, Kennesaw enacted a law requiring every household to own a firearm, exempting persons with criminal records or religious objections. Schwab's study claims "the high rates of death, injury, and long-term disability related to firearms...have led to growing concern in the health care community". But to make his case, Schwab resorted to some statistical sleight-of-hand: conflation of the figures. That's mixing apples, oranges, and pears, or, in this case, accidents, suicides, and homicides.
The trick helps conceal the fact that fatal firearm accidents fell in 1994 to the lowest annual number since record-keeping began in 1903, and dropped even lower by almost 7% in 1995.
Is it productive - or even reasonable - to treat firearm injuries from accidents the same as "injuries" from homicides? Or from suicides? Logic would dictate no, but then Schwab's own words betray his real motive - firearm-prohibition: "Our study provides evidence that...physicians should join community efforts to regulate guns...and that a wide range of specific gun regulation measures should be adopted as public policy."
The AP story claimed that "firearms in the home make homicide three times more likely". More rubbish! It failed to mention that this thoroughly discredited claim originated from the junk-science of Arthur Kellermann. To "prove" it, Kellermann counted dead criminals among the "victims". And he took responses about firearm ownership at face value, from residents in locales where some of the most restrictive firearm laws were in effect.
The story also stated that "suicide can go up five-fold when there's a loaded gun around the house". This factoid comes from another "study" by Kellermann, in which he simply tossed out the 30% of suicides occurring outside the victim's home, thereby inflating the contribution from firearms.
Kellermann virtually ignored his own data, which showed stronger links to psychiatric medications, drug abuse, hospitalization for alcoholism, and even living alone, than to firearms.
It was Kellermann's brand of taxpayer-funded politically-motivated "research" that, in 1996, led to Congressional defunding of further firearm studies by the Centers for Disease Control. While Schwab had little to say about the role of firearm safety education in preventing injuries, another graduate from Schwab's school of thought wasn't so reticent. Dr. Katherine Christoffel is cited as an "advisor" to Schwab's study. Her views on the value of safety education have been published in Pediatrics: "...educating gun owners about gun safety is unlikely to reduce the incidence of injuries from firearms. Constant media reports keep youth-related firearm injuries before the public...Pediatricians can help keep these messages before the news media by being available and prepared to speak when tragedy strikes."
In other words, scare the public - but don't educate them! The fact is today's all-time low in fatal firearm accidents is due to the efforts of dedicated Americans teaching firearm safety, long before tragedy strikes. A 1991 study by the General Accounting Office provided further proof, noting that 84% of firearm accidents involved deviations from basic safety rules.
The lesson is that safety education is the best way to continue reducing firearm accidents.
Could it be that Christoffel and Schwab are really more interested in disarming Americans, than in saving the lives of our children?
Finally, Schwab failed to note that doctors pose a far greater threat than do firearms. The 1990 Harvard Medical Practice Study estimated patient deaths resulting from physician negligence. If Harvard's numbers are typical of the rest of the nation, they translate to 180,000 people, each year - almost five times the number of Americans killed with firearms! A 1993 study by Ralph Nader pegged that number at 300,000.
According to Dr. Edgar Suter: "One might fairly conclude from such a 'costs only' analysis that doctors are a deadly public menace. Why do we not reach that conclusion? Because, in balance, doctors save many more lives than they take, and so it is with guns." But then, that kind of admission requires far greater courage, and infinitely more integrity, than firearm-prohibitionists can muster up.
The writer lives in Wesley Hills and is chairman, Committee for Law-Abiding Gun Owners, Rockland.
Reprinted from the Rockland Journal-News (Rockland County, NY), Sunday,
March 1, 1998, Editorial Page, as a "Community View".