rev. 5/2/03




In the Feb. 3, '94 (vol 330, No. 5) issue of the NEJM, Kellerman, Somes and Rivara--responding to some of the considerable criticism, in that same issue, of the report in the preceding year that produced the much quoted "2.7 times" or "3 times" risk factor--made the following statements:

By ascertaining the rate of gun ownership in households where a homicide had occurred and comparing this rate with that noted in a random sample of neighboring households that contained a person of the same age group, sex, and race as the victim, we obtained a good approximation of relative risk(1). This is the same research technique that was used to identify the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer(2).

Note that the researchers said they had noted a rate of gun ownership in a sample of neighboring households although what they actually had is only the rate of admitted gun ownership.  For info on the errors of their conclusions about gun possession rate, see the page about this particular study.  Note too that their study was restricted to neighborhoods in which homicides had occurred, so the results of the study might apply to neighborhoods in which people most need guns for home protection but could not apply to the peaceful neighborhoods that make up most of the U.S.

Finally, note that the research technique had been used only to suggest a possible link between smoking and cancer, but did not prove that the link was a causal relationship (that is, that either caused the other).  It took a logical explanation plus other types of studies to prove this, even though is was logically impossible that cancer late in a person's life could have caused smoking early in that same life, because it was entirely plausible that the thing(s) that caused people to smoke could have been the same thing(s) that caused them to get cancer.  On the other hand, high gun possession rate could easily be a result of high homicide rate rather than vice versa.

In the same letter to the NEJM editor, the researchers wrote, "The exaggerated claim that guns are used in self-defense more than a million times a year has not withstood scientific scrutiny" referencing two papers published prior to Kleck's publication of his landmark study proving that guns are used well over a million times per year for defense.  (Find a separate page at this site about that study.)

They then said, "If a gun in the home affords substantial protection from homicide...we should have found that homes in which a homicide occurred were less likely to contain a gun than similar households in which a homicide did not occur. The opposite was true."  This statement is a sign of extreme stupidity or dishonesty.  The researchers were only examining households in which people had been killed and had, by definition, lost in their encounters with assailants.  Existence of such households/victims tells absolutely nothing about the numbers of homes in which guns were used successfully.