24 February 2017

Gun Research

Welcome back. Growing up in Upstate New York in the 1940s and 1950s, I became accustom to rifles racked across pickup trucks’ rear windows and hunters taking off from work the opening day of deer season. No one in my family hunted, though for a time, my father’s auto supply store carried hunting rifles with the sporting goods (Gone Hunting).
National Rifle
Association logo.

In those years, the National Rifle Association was known for gun safety education, marksmanship training and shooting for recreation. It wasn’t until the 1970s, notably 1977, that the NRA evolved into the gun-rights lobbying organization it is today.

These thoughts came to mind when I read about the new Congress’s efforts to roll back an Obama-era rule. The rule would have required the Social Security Administration to send the names of those who receive mental disability benefits and use a payee for managing finances to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Stopping those with mental health problems from buying guns made sense to me. I was sure the NRA was overachieving. Then I learned that disability and civil rights advocates, certainly beyond the sway of NRA, were also against the rule. They questioned the connection to public safety and were concerned the rule might restrict the rights of people with mental disabilities in other areas.

It’s regrettable that the NRA’s lobbying has interfered with research that could have given us a clearer picture of all aspects of gun control and gun violence.

Congress and Gun Research
In 1996, Congress removed funding for gun violence research by the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and included a measure (Dickey amendment) in the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, 1997, that prohibited the CDC from spending funds “to advocate or promote gun control.” Though not a ban per se, it made it inadvisable for the CDC to fund gun research.

Going further, in 2011, Congress added a similar measure to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, applying the same constraint on the National Institutes of Health research funding.

Gun research has continued without federal support; however, the effects have been severe. One study appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine found research publications on gun violence fell 64% between 1998 and 2012. Another in JAMA calculated that, between 2004 and 2015, gun violence research funding and publications were less than 2% and 5%, respectively, of what would be predicted based on statistics for other leading causes of death.

U.S. firearm production by type 1995-2014. (From Shooting Industry Magazine www.shootingindustry.com/u-s-firearms-industry-today-2016/)
Recent Gun Violence Research
A sample of recently published studies provides an indication of what could be learned.

Boston University researchers estimated the probability that every American will know a gun violence victim to be a hair shy of 100%. They reached that unhappy conclusion by linking gun injury rates from 2013 with generally accepted estimates about the size of an American's social network.

Northeastern and Harvard University researchers found, via an online survey in 2015, that one in five US gun owners obtained their most recent firearm without a background check. That’s about half of what was found in 1994.

Boston Children’s Hospital researchers led an evaluation of US gun laws and gun homicides based on peer-reviewed articles from 1970 to 2016. While laws that strengthen background checks and permit-to-purchase seemed to decrease homicides, laws directed at gun trafficking, improving child safety and banning military-style assault weapons were not associated with changes in homicide rates. Evidence for laws restricting guns in public places and leniency in gun carrying was mixed. Overall, the results showed the need for further study.

Wrap Up

Two of the guns on the farm:
Remington model 581-S .22
with Busnell Banner scope (R)
and New England Firearms
Pardner .410 shotgun (L).
If it’s not clear that I’m advocating and promoting gun research not gun control, I refer you to another survey of private gun ownership in the US by Harvard and Northeastern researchers, this one as yet unpublished.

They found that half of the guns are owned by 14% of gun owners or only about 3% of the adult US population. These “super-owners” have collections ranging from 8 to 140 guns. Living on my father-in-law’s farm, I’ve discovered that he is a charter member of that group. Thanks for stopping by.

I am grateful for the review and helpful comments of Jay P. in preparing this post.

Example review of NRA history: www.encyclopedia.com/sports-and-everyday-life/social-organizations/private-organizations/national-rifle-association
Articles on rollback of mental disability rule:
Article and federal laws on advocating or promoting gun control:
JAMA published studies of reduction in gun research following Congressional actions:
Boston University study of likelihood of knowing a gun violence victim:
Northeastern and Harvard survey of gun background checks:
Boston Children’s Hospital-led study of gun laws and homicides:
Harvard and Northeastern survey of US gun ownership:
Article: www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2016/0921/Who-are-America-s-gun-super-owners
Link to paper: gunculture2point0.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/link-to-research-paper-by-authors-of-new-harvardnortheastern-study-of-gun-ownership/

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