Erich Pratt, communications director of "Gun Owners of America," was a guest on Diane Rehm's show this morning, supporting "Stand your ground" laws. He asserted that the CDC had released a study proving "defensive use" of handguns is extremely safe and effective. Or, as William Saletan put it: "Guns are used for self-defense often and effectively."
Well, not really:
A different issue is whether defensive uses of guns, however numerous or rare they may be, are effective in preventing injury to the gun-wielding crime victim. Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive use of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was “used” by a crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have consistently found lower injury rates among gun using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies. [citations omitted] Effectiveness of defensive tactics, however, is likely to vary across types of victims, types of offenders, and circumstances of the crime, so further research is needed, both to explore these contingencies and to confirm or discount earlier findings.
Even when defensive use of guns is effective in averting death or injury for the gun user in cases of crime, it is still possible that keeping a gun in the home or carrying a gun in public—concealed or open carry—may have a different net effect on the rate of injury. For example, if gun ownership raises the risk of suicide, homicide, or the use of such weapons by those who invade the homes of gun owners this would cancel or outweigh the beneficial effects of defensive gun use [citations omitted]. Although some early studies were published that relate to this issue, they were not conclusive, and this is a sufficiently important question that it merits additional, careful exploration. (emphasis added)
The very kind of exploration you aren’t likely to get in media reports about studies like this.
As this passage indicates, the study in question was not one of conclusions, but of what questions need to be carefully researched. It’s not even, as Mr. Pratt said, a CDC study. It is a study commissioned by the CDC, and conducted by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. The report itself concludes a summary which merely establishes areas for research, with these words:
The research agenda proposed in this report is intended as an initial, not a conclusive or all-encompassing, set of questions critical to developing the most effective policies to reduce the occurrence and impact of firearm-related violence in the United States. No single agency or research strategy can provide all the answers. This report focuses on the public health aspects of firearm violence; the committee expects that this research agenda will be integrated with research conducted from criminal justice and other perspectives to provide a much fuller knowledge base to underpin our nation’s approach to dealing with this very important set of societal issues.
Let's repeat that: "The research agenda proposed in this report is intended as an initial...set of questions critical to developing the most effective policies to reduce...firearm-related violence in the United States." So it isn't a study that concludes something about the state of firearm related violence in America. It doesn't even draw a conclusion about the discussion of such violence in America. All it does is try to set a framework of reasonable questions to explore in support of elucidating an effective policy on firearms related violence in America. It's a prologue to the beginning of an analysis to try to figure out what's going on.
And it isn’t a study by the CDC, in part because groups like the ones that defend “stand your ground” have made sure Congress won’t allow the CDC to study gun violence. And it isn’t a study that proves Obama wrong on his stand on gun violence, because it isn’t a study that proves anything at all; except that we need to be allowed to study gun violence, and we need to frame those studies with the right set of beginning questions.
Which is actually what should be the topic of discussion. Instead, we get selective and misleading readings from people like William Saletan, who at least give it a veneer of respectability (I’ve omitted the Google links I got to websites I’m not sure didn’t leave roaches in my browser, if not worse), and we get outright lies from Erich Pratt as he defends the indefensible.
Is this a great country, or what?