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CDC Can't Be Trusted on Guns; Here's Why

CDC Can't Be Trusted on Guns; Here's Why

Originally published in the July 2018 Official Journals of the National Rifle Association

F
ew who read this magazine are likely to be unaware of the anti-gun leanings of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which for years has worked to treat firearm ownership like it’s a disease that needs to be eradicated. But newly discovered polling by the CDC shows just how far the agency is willing to go to hide evidence of the positive aspects of gun ownership.

To fully explain the recent discovery, a look at the history of defensive gun use research is necessary:

The year is 1996. The Right-to-Carry movement is building momentum across the United States after violent crime peaked in the early 1990s. Criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz just published a study estimating that 2.5 million Americans used a firearm to defend themselves against another person in 1993. Gun control advocates scoff at the number, though Kleck refutes the criticisms levied at his work (and does so even today).

Those who seek to curtail our firearms freedom with anti-gun research always exclude the positive impacts of firearm ownership.

The surest way to confirm, cast doubt upon or refute any research is replication. The CDC had recently entered the “gun violence research” field, publishing a flawed study clearly designed to advocate for gun control in 1993. 

Shortly after Kleck and Gertz published their research, the CDC began collecting data that could have been part of the debate over the hot-button issue of how often lawful gun owners use their guns in self-defense. It collected data on defensive gun use for three years (in 1996, 1997 and 1998) in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveys. This data collection was not discovered until Kleck just recently came across it while looking for data on another topic. While Kleck is currently analyzing the data and comparing it to his own, something is clearly amiss.

For 20 years, this data went unnoticed. Like some buried treasure, Kleck luckily discovered it essentially by accident. He wasn’t looking for it because, like the rest of the world outside of the CDC offices, he had no idea it existed. It was not discovered until 20 years after the CDC stopped collecting data on the topic. Twenty years of silence. Given how often questions about defensive gun usage come up, and the wide range of estimates (from around 116,000 per year to millions, depending on the source) as well as the CDC’s clear interest on the topic, one may wonder why this data was never acknowledged.

Twenty years of silence is good reason to question the CDC’s motives. The agency had opportunities to publicize the data. Former President Obama directed the CDC to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence in 2013. The CDC then requested the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council identify the most pressing research problems. This report briefly discusses estimates of defensive gun usage, including citations of Kleck’s work, but makes no mention of the BRFSS data. The report notes the wide range of estimates, from “only” 108,000 annually to more than 3 million per year, yet it offers no mention of the CDC’s own data on the topic. Tellingly, every brief mention of defensive gun usage is followed by reference to the biased study on “risk factors associated with gun possession.”

Perhaps it was simply forgotten …  by however many people worked on the BRFSS over the span of three years writing the survey, collecting the data, formatting the data, analyzing the data and presumably presenting it to someone at CDC. Maybe it was misplaced.

Or maybe the CDC didn’t report the data because it did not corroborate the agency’s anti-gun leanings. It would be hard to advocate banning firearms from the same office that found a sizable number of law-abiding Americans use firearms to defend themselves every year. Is that more or less likely than a team of researchers forgetting they collected data on a hot-button topic?

Our assumptions about the CDC may be colored by the agency's history with gun control advocacy. The motives or circumstances driving their silence may never be uncovered. Maybe in 20 years or so someone will find a long-lost memo that details why the CDC kept quiet. Maybe not.

While this data would have been useful to support our fight against gun control measures over the last 20 years, even now it can still serve as an example of how often law-abiding gun owners use firearms to defend themselves and others. Those who seek to curtail our firearms freedom with anti-gun research always exclude the positive impacts of firearm ownership, but thanks to the CDC, we now know about the millions of Americans who are alive and unharmed today thanks to exercising their constitutional right to self-defense.

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