Why Do We Believe That A Gun Keeps Us Safe?

              Our friends at UC-Davis have just published an article on the connection between increased gun sales and gun-injury rates. The good news about the article is that it is open source, which means you can download it here and read it for free. So I commend Garen Wintemute and his colleagues for giving everyone in Gun-control Nation an opportunity to share their research findings for free.

              That’s the good news. After I summarize their research and what they learned, I’m going to mention the bad news. And the bad news is what Wintemute and his research team didn’t bother to learn. But first, here’s see what they learned.

              The research covers a ‘spike’ in handgun sales in California in California following the 2012 re-election of The Bomber and the Sandy Hook massacre, two events that occurred within a space of five weeks. The authors define a ‘spike’ as a “sharp and short-lived increase in firearm sales.”  From this, the authors then attempt to test the following hypothesis, namely, that “the sudden and unanticipated influx of firearms in a concentrated area such as a city could result in increases in firearm harm.” The research covered injury data from 499 California cities along with a complete run of handgun sales which are recorded individually and kept by the California DOJ.)

              Here’s where I have to raise a small, red flag. The authors claim that they measured the spike in gun sales from the date of Obama’s election until six weeks post-Sandy Hook. But what this analysis fails to consider is whether the spike was only a response to those two events rather than reflecting the release of pent-up demand which developed prior to Obama’s second win.

              I spent the entire Summer and Fall of 2012 sitting by myself in my gun shop because I didn’t know one, single gun nut who thought that Romney wasn’t going to be inaugurated President in 2013. Even Romney believed this fantasy and so did everyone else. Which is why gun sales collapsed during the run-up to that election, because everyone knows that when the White House is occupied by a Republican, the gun business goes into the toilet, prices collapse and why not wait a few months before buying your next gun? After all, it’s not as if anyone needs to buy another gun.

              If the UC-Davis researchers wanted to get a clear picture of the post-election spike, what they should have done was to factor in the trend of gun sales before the cataclysmic event took place. Gun sales always pick up in November and over the next three to four months, but the comparison should be judged not just by looking forward in time, but also by looking back.

              Did the researchers find an ‘association’ between the gun spike in November-December and an increase in gun injuries over the following year? Of course they did, although the percentage of gun injuries (4%) was substantially less than the percentage increase of handguns that were floating around. Again, I am somewhat leery of how the research team computed what they refer to as ‘excess handguns’ (meaning more guns being sold than were usually the case) because of the issue of pent-up demand.

Okay, now here comes the bad news.

We have all kinds of evidence that gun sales spike after mass shootings or other events that might portend new regulations reducing the availability of guns. Much of this research is referenced by the UC-Davis team. But to me, the question that really matters and that nobody in the public health research domain seems interested in understanding is this: Why do some people actually believe that a gun will protect them from the kind of harm represented by what took place at Sandy Hook?

If public health researchers like Wintemute and his colleagues would sit down and try to figure that one out, maybe just maybe we could hold a reasonable discussion with gun owners about the risk of owning those guns.

Is that too much to ask?

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3 thoughts on “Why Do We Believe That A Gun Keeps Us Safe?

  1. One of the ways people learn to act is by watching other people act.. If a person sees how valuable guns areto other people in keeping themselves safe why shouldn’t they think guns can keep them safe? Through movies, TV and maybe even video games lately many people are raised that way. It is like knowing to get someplace you need a car or truck.

  2. And it’s easy to imagine scenarios where a weapon would make a person safer. But it’s tougher to imagine ones were the weapon would be of no use or even a detriment, even though such scenarios exist.

  3. I’d like to see about ten or 20 years of data from Laqueur et al with injuries plotted against purchasing spikes to see if this was an artifact of association. The authors found a bump and declared “Eureka” rather than testing the hypothesis further. Also, would be nice to know if these were purchases made by folks who already owned guns or newly christened gun owners who discovered the difference between the muzzle and the breech the hard way.

    My concern is not primarily for experienced gun owners who are part of a gun culture but those who, as Brent and Bruce suggest, think, based on media stories, that a gun makes them safer. So they go out and buy one not realizing that without proper gun sense, the muzzle might eventually be pointed in the wrong direction, either by the purchaser or someone else who finds the gun lying around. The motorcycle industry launched the Motorcycle Safety Foundation after motorcycles got a bad rap from people wrapping their 1000 cc’s of fun around trees. Maybe its time the NSSF got more involved in actual safety. One thing the MSF asks people is whether motorcycling is for them, and immediately offers about ten reasons why it might not be. I probably would flunk that test but ride anyway. Put it on my headstone, I guess.

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