The Fake News of Gun-Control “Studies”

posted on October 3, 2019

Pop-psychology of gun owners has gone mainstream. Researchers are often attempting to psychoanalyze gun owners without speaking to gun owners. They’re mining statistics to find evidence for their political biases and then stepping back to explain their “findings” about gun owners with what amounts to anti-gun pop-psychology.

For example, PsyPost, a psychology and neuroscience news website, ran a story in July under the headline, “Study finds guns automatically prime aggressive thoughts—even when wielded by a ‘good guy’.” The article cites a study done in 2017 that ran in Sage Journals.

The study is farcical. Participants were shown photos of criminals, soldiers, police in military gear or police in regular gear with guns. Researchers then measured aggressive thoughts with a test. Participants could fill in two blank spaces after the letters “Ki” as “Kill” or “Kiss.” (Whatever a person’s views, “kiss” is a weird and uncomfortable word to have to fill in when looking at someone with a gun.) So surprise, surprise, the photos of individuals with guns—tools often bought for self-defense—elicited aggressive thoughts, according to this test.

In another recent example, researchers published a study in the journal Pediatrics titled, “State Gun Laws and Pediatric Firearm-Related Mortality.” The study’s researchers say they found that “[s]tates with stricter gun laws had lower rates of firearm-related pediatric mortality.” 

Mainstream-media outlets treated the findings as anti-gun gospel. “Fewer American Kids Die in States With Tougher Gun Laws, According to This New Study,” noted a headline in Time magazine. “Children in states with strict gun laws are less likely to die, according to a new study,” said CNN’s headline. These and many other news outlets went on to treat the study without a hint of journalistic cynicism.

The trouble is the study is deeply flawed. It’s is a “cross-sectional” study that compares firearm-related death rates across various states that have different gun-control scores, as calculated by the anti-gun Brady Campaign.

As state demographics, cultures and more are hardly uniform—Alabama is different from New York in a myriad of ways—a better way to measure the effects of a law is to measure what changed after a law is enacted in a particular state, county and so on. Did the deaths of those who are 21 years old and younger (which is what this study covers) change after a “universal” background-check law went into effect? If there was a measurable change, how can we be sure the background-check law was a major factor? Such studies, obviously, aren’t controlled experiments that can be replicated in a laboratory, so these questions and more must be seriously asked and rigorously answered.

This study doesn’t do anything like that. It just compares apples to oranges.

“Few academics look at such purely cross-sectional data, simply because it is impossible in that case to accurately account for differences across different places,” says John Lott, founder and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC). “Lumping all the different gun-control numbers into one number is pretty arbitrary. Not only is there the issue of what gun-control laws to include, there is also the issue of how to weigh them.”

These researchers obviously have treated a complex topic in this way to get a desired political outcome. They were rewarded for it with a lot of favorable coverage from the mainstream media.

The lead researcher for this study even said as much.

“As a pediatric emergency medicine physician, I have personally cared for too many children who have been unfortunate victims of gun violence,” Monika Goyal, director of research in emergency medicine at Children’s National in Washington, D.C., told Time. “Although there has been a recent uptick in firearm-injury prevention research, our country has not embraced this issue as it has other public health crises.”

Does this sound like something a scientist or an activist would say? 

Clearly, these researchers want guns treated as a public-health risk, as this allows them to prescribe their preferred remedy: more gun bans and restrictions.


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