Mark Twain popularized the phrase, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Later, the 1954 book “How to Lie with Statistics” detailed several ways to do just that—and many of those techniques have been used by anti-gun so-called “researchers” for more than 20 years.
Now it appears that gun control supporters in the medical field are playing political games with statistics again.
At the national conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Oct. 27, 2013, the group announced that two doctors, Arin Madenci and Christopher Weldon, had conducted a study titled “United States Gunshot Violence—Disturbing Trends,” which purportedly found that:
- Pediatric shooting injuries and fatalities are supposedly increasing;
- Hospitalizations of children for gunshot wounds are supposedly increasing; and
- In-hospital deaths of children from gunshot wounds are supposedly increasing.
Surprised? You should be. Because these findings contradict empirical evidence and, in fact, paint a false picture of reality.
Ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is responsible for tracking fatal and non-fatal firearm injuries and fatalities nationally.
According to the CDC, firearm-related deaths among children, and even among juveniles and young adults, have decreased since the 1990s.
In light of that, you would expect diligent newspaper and television reporters to dig deeper into such a story, asking what occurred to suddenly reverse the decrease in fatalities.
You’d expect them to look at the studies, examine the data sets and interview the authors about their methodology.
But in the anti-gun media’s tradition of “never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” dozens of media outlets—including ABC News, NBC News, U.S. News and World Report, Science News, even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ healthfinder.gov website—picked up and parroted the study’s dubious claims without question or comment.
Study Withheld, But Press Release Issued Anyway
One of the things that raises red flags about the study is that, as of this writing, it isn’t even available to the public for review or examination.In other words, AAP threw the media a bone they knew the media would like, to get their group into the headlines during their annual convention.
Instead of opening up the books for others to try to replicate their research, the study’s authors declined to release the study publicly at the AAP’s conference. In fact, the program for the conference didn’t even mention the study. So much about it remains shrouded in mystery and silence.
What AAP did do is issue a press release selling the study’s supposed findings to gin up media interest. In other words, AAP threw the media a bone they knew the media would like, to get their group into the headlines during their annual convention.
We don’t know how, exactly, the doctors arrived at their conclusions. But even what we do know from their press release raises very serious questions about the legitimacy of the study.
Since When Are 18- and 19-Year-Olds “Children”?
First, although the study talks about “children,” it apparently includes data on persons through the age of 19—not what any reasonable person would call “children.” This is an old bait-and-switch tactic. In the 1990s, anti-gun researchers and activists deceptively inflated statistics for firearm-related deaths among children by classifying persons as old as 19—and in some cases, 24—as “children.”
This was how President Bill Clinton was able to claim that “13 children” were killed every day through the misuse of firearms, when the reality was that the vast majority of those deaths were among juveniles and young adults, many of which were the result of violent gang activities. In fact, if you counted only ages 0 through 14 as “children,” Clinton’s made-up number dropped from “13” to 1.7 per day.
Since then—and until this most recent study—anti-gun researchers have changed their tune. Instead of talking about “children,” they’ve revised their sound bite to “children and teens,” thereby admitting what we all already knew: that 18- and 19-year-olds are young adults, not “children.”
If you look at CDC data for children ages 0-14 for the same time period examined in the AAP study, you’ll see that firearm-related deaths dropped from 630 in 1997 to 355 in 2009—a 47 percent decline. Even for ages 15 through 17, the number dropped from 1,654 in 1997 to 1,037 in 2009, according to the CDC. That’s a 37 percent decline.
Furthermore, previous studies, like the current one, deliberately blurred the distinction between relatively infrequent accidental deaths, and the suicides and murders that account for the vast majority of firearm-related deaths.
Cherry-Picking Data To “Prove” Falsehoods
Another red flag raised by the latest study is that it was based on data from the Kids’ Inpatient Database (KID), a nationwide sampling of pediatric hospital admissions. The KID database, according to the study’s authors, includes records of gunshot injuries to children that specify the location where the shooting occurred (e.g., whether it was inside a house) and specify the type of weapon used (e.g., handgun).If the authors of the study had sincerely wanted to find the truth about firearm injuries and deaths, they could have used data from the CDC which has compiled statistics on intentional and accidental firearm injuries and deaths for many years.
Presumably, this means that records lacking the location of the shooting are excluded, records that don’t specify the type of firearm are excluded, shootings resulting in immediate death are excluded (since they don’t go to the hospital), admissions for non-pediatric care are excluded, hospitals that don’t participate in the kid database are all excluded, and injuries that don’t require hospitalization are excluded, as well.
Although this might sound like a minor objection to the study’s methodology, it’s also a statistical truth that the less data you look at—and the more data you exclude—the less representative that data becomes of the whole, and the more prone the study becomes to sampling error.
That would be like looking at your vehicle’s fuel efficiency gauge only when you’re coasting downhill with a tailwind, to “prove” you’re getting 100 miles per gallon.
If the authors of the study had sincerely wanted to find the truth about firearm injuries and deaths, they could have used data from the CDC which has compiled statistics on intentional and accidental firearm injuries and deaths for many years. They didn’t, for the obvious reason.
Newsflash: Most Car Accidents Involve … Cars!
Another one of the study’s claims that was widely reported by the media is that “states with higher percentages of household firearm ownership also tended to have higher proportions of childhood gunshot wounds, especially those occurring in the home.”
But this supposedly earth-shattering revelation is, in fact, essentially meaningless. It’s like saying that the vast majority of motor vehicle accidents involve motor vehicles, or that the vast majority of arsons involve fire.
More importantly, this inflammatory claim also confuses cause and effect.
After all, using similar so-called logic, one could say that “homes with higher percentages of insulin ownership also tend to have higher percentages of diabetic residents” or that “homes with higher percentages of flood insurance coverage also tend to have a higher risk of flooding.” Does this mean that insulin causes diabetes or that flood insurance causes floods? Of course not.
In the same way, families who live in areas with higher violent crime rates may also be more likely to own firearms—not to commit crimes, but to defend against a criminal attack. If you live on a flood plain, you buy flood insurance.
More of anything means more of both positive and negative consequences. More cars mean more transportation, but also more car accidents. More doctors means more health care, but also more “medical misadventures”—which, by the way, outnumber accidental firearm fatalities nationwide by a factor of more than 3-1, according to the CDC.
Pushing Propaganda To Prop Up An Agenda
So if this latest anti-gun “study” presented by the AAP is deliberately deceptive, why?
Before accepting at face value the claims of any organization or its members, sometimes it pays to consider the source and its motives. If you do that, you’ll see that the American Academy of Pediatrics has an established anti-gun bias and agenda.
In its 2010 book “Your Baby’s First Year,” the AAP lectures parents that, “The most effective way to prevent firearm-related injury to children is to keep guns out of homes and communities.”
But the group goes even further than that, advocating enough anti-gun laws to make it sound a lot less like a group of medical professionals than an arm of the gun-ban lobby.
For example, among the AAP’s official “Gun Violence Prevention Policy Recommendations” the group suggests that government:
- Ban semi-automatic so-called “assault weapons”;
- Ban so-called “high-capacity” magazines;
- Mandate additional handgun restrictions; and even
- Impose federal law requiring “safe storage” of firearms—making them virtually useless for self defense in the home.
- (These recommendations are available at AARP.org under the “Advocacy & Policy” tab.)
So it’s no wonder that Dr. Arin Madenci, the lead author of the AAP’s latest anti-gun study, said, “Policies designed to reduce the number of household firearms, especially handguns, may more effectively reduce the number of gunshot injuries in children”—whether or not it’s true, and whether or not he and his colleagues have to cook the books to make it appear true.
As Mark Twain also said, “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”