An October 19, 2009 article in the Washington Times examined federal health agencies that have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to study gun "safety." According to the article, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently financing research to investigate whether having many liquor stores in a neighborhood puts people at greater risk of getting shot." The Times reports:
The NIH, which administers more than $30 billion in taxpayer funds for medical research, defended the grants.
"Gun related violence is a public health problem – it diverts considerable health care resources away from other problems and, therefore, is of interest to NIH," Don Ralbovsky, NIH spokesman, wrote in an e-mail responding to questions about the grants.
Certainly, more liquor stores are operated in neighborhoods where residents are poor because they are consumers who tend to generate brisk business for the liquor industry — especially liquor convenience stores, since they desire easy access to cheap liquor and beer. These liquor stores are also magnets for armed robberies. So the NIH will attempt to discover whether or not more crimes are committed in these low-income neighborhoods that play host to liquor stores.
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The American Journal of Public Health, in its November 2009 issue, will publish the results of a completed study, also funded by the NIH, which attempted to determine whether gun possession safeguards against harm or promotes a false sense of security. The media reports of the results of that study were predictable — people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those who were not in possession of a gun, and therefore, carrying a gun really doesn’t offer protection at all. After looking at the details of how the study was conducted, it is important to recall that correlation does not imply causation. Moreover, the correlation-and-effect approach to scientific inquiry is often used to yield biased results that politicize critical issues. The author of the study, Charles C. Branas, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, was quoted as saying:
Learning how to live healthy lives alongside guns will require more studies such as this one. This study should be the beginning of a better investment in gun injury research through various government and private agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, which in the past have not been legally permitted to fund research ‘designed to affect the passage of specific Federal, State, or local legislation intended to restrict or control the purchase or use of firearms.’
Champions of the anti-gun movement, along with the anti-gun biased media, often use study results to plant fear and doubt among the uninformed masses on this particularly tempestuous issue. Notice the reference to more research being needed, with specific mention of a government — not private — agency. Yet Eugene Volokh, a prominent UCLA law professor and popular writer, promptly dissected the ScienceDaily.com headline, which had been repeated throughout the media.
At the Tennessee farm, July 2009.
In an October 5, 2009 post at the Volokh Conspiracy, Volokh notes the correlation/causation problem, and he also points out that the study left a wide range of factors uncontrolled. Additionally, he notes the research model works only to the extent that you actually know who possesses guns and who doesn’t, and he goes on to show how this could not be known in all cases utilized in the study. In terms of trying to determine whether gun possession leads to protection or peril, the study doesn’t clearly support either theory, but as Volokh observes, yet it is publicized, and it’s reported, as if it did robustly show the causal relationship. Certainly, the media has the ability to serve up foreboding headlines and hand-picked quotes that serve the larger agenda of influencing public opinion on the gun question.