WHAT MOTHERS SHOULD
KNOW ABOUT GUNS

6/23/99
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You've likely heard or read that having a gun in the home causes a risk of death or injury, and maybe that the risk is greater than the probable benefits of having that gun.  Such information is false.  Here we explain the truth, how the false information has come to be spread, and what is wrong with the commonly available information.  Besides reading the materials linked from this page, we suggest that you invest the time and effort to check out most of the info at the site.

THE TRUTH

The risk of having a gun depends upon you and your familyIf you get a gun and don't learn about safe handling of it, your risk will be high.  If you have children around and don't secure the gun any time you are not in personal control of it, your risk will be high.  If anyone who will have access to the gun is violent or has serious mental or emotional problems, your risk will be high.  If your family is mentally/emotionally healthy and learns about and practices safe handling, however, the gun will be of essentially zero danger to you or your family.

If you get a gun for protection but have not learned about protective use of the gun, and have not decided that you are willing to kill someone rather than let that someone harm you or someone in your family, your risk may be a little higher than if a criminal comes to your home and you didn't have the gun.  If a criminal comes to steal from you or rape you, you may be hurt more than you would be otherwise if you don't know how to use the gun or if you show the criminal that you are not really willing to use it.

On the other hand, if you use the gun as you should, the chances of you or someone in your family being raped or injured will be less than if you did not use a gun.  So simply having the gun doesn't protect, but having it along with certain prerequisites may.  One of the many things a person must learn for her own safety is that one does not grab for a gun when the criminal already has one trained on you, except as a last resort.  A person with a gun for protection doesn't necessarily get to use it when a need arises.  So, it is important to have your gun ready before you are confronted by an assailant.

The risk of having a gun, which will be small if you do it properly, must also be balanced against the risk of not having one.  The risk of having one might be justified if you live in circumstances in which you are under risk anyway.  For example, if you live in a place where criminals invade homes with occupants at home, you face a risk if you don't have some means of protection.  This risk is generally small, but so is the risk of having the gun if you do it right.  If you have been associated with a violent man, you face a risk if you don't have some means of protection.  Again, this risk may be relatively small, but so is the risk of having a gun if you do it right.  Don't expect police to protect you.  They can't be there all the time, and it's not their job.  Don't expect another person to be able to protect you without a firearm unless you'd just as soon see that person dead.

HOW THE FALSE INFO HAS BEEN SPREAD

The supposed "facts" typically come from people who know essentially nothing about the subject—people like Oprah, Rosie, Dr. Joy, or your pediatrician.  They are no better qualified than you to make recommendations about gun possession.  These people have been misled, and they spread false information in their well-meaning concern for people.  It was easy for someone to mislead them since they knew nothing about firearms or their uses, good and bad.

The false facts—what we call "factoids"—all basically come from a handful of doctors who have done some analyses ("studies").  These doctors are people who themselves know nothing about firearms uses except for the cases that have been brought to them at emergency rooms.

Some of the doctors, and maybe even all of them, began their "research" with the intention of proving that guns are something we should get rid of.  They started off with a hatred of guns as a result of past experiences—a friend or family member being hurt or killed, or becoming emotionally overwhelmed by the cases coming into the ER.  In short, they:  are intellectualy blinded by their emotional involvement in the issue; think that being dishonest is justified by the importance of their cause; have used study methods that are appropriate for study of disease but not of violence; or some combination of these.

These doctors provided articles about their studies to major medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The journals don't publish any article without a group of doctors reviewing it and agreeing that it is technically sound.  This is what they call "peer review."  The problem in relation to gun-related topics is that the doctors that review the articles also know essentially nothing about the subject.  In addition, the editors who control the content of the journals are doctors who are equally unqualified and, in some cases, are openly avid gun control advocates.  Together these facts result in a blatant antigun bias in the medical literature.

So these journals readily published the articles, which caused the false information to be spread to essentially the entire health care community, the vast majority of which have never owned or used a gun and know about the same about gun uses as the doctors who did the studies and the doctors involved with the journals (that is, nothing).

So a lot of false information has been spread across the health care community.  The chief federal doctor (Surgeon General) has joined in the parade.  The health care community and gun control advocates have spread the factoids to any groups (especially women) with no backgrounds that would involve any knowledge of guns or their uses—including education and legal professions.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE FACTOIDS?

First, the factoids all come from single studies that have not been verified in the normal scientific way.  In true science, a single study or experiment is not treated as proof of something.  When somebody publishes a study/experiment, other qualified people critique the study/experiment and see if they can duplicate it and get the same results, and perform other studies/experiments to determine if they can verify the results using different valid methods.  None of this has been done in relation to the anti-gun studies discussed above.  Instead, the gun control advocates have simply spread the factoids as though they were real, proven facts, and have even ignored contrary studies and academic criticism of the studies.

In most cases the factoids are just misinterpretation of results of studies.  For example, a relatively useless study (probably the first) found that, of those people who were killed in a home and using a gun, over a period of several years in a Washington county, the portions of people who killed themselves, were murdered, died by accident, or were justifiably killed (that is, in self defense) were in certain ratios to each other.  All of these except the justifiable killing accounted for 42.7 times the number that were justifiable.  The study also found that a small portion of the justifiable killings were of "intruders."  This study is the source of the common "a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used to kill someone you know (or a loved one) than to be used in self defense (or against an intruder)."

The misrepresentations ignore things like:  (1)it is proven that most people wanting to kill themselves will find some other way to do it if they can't get a gun; and, (2)the purpose of having a gun for defense is not to kill assailants.  The huge majority of assailants defended against with guns are simply chased away (and, by the way, the more than 2 million incidents per year are not reported to the media or the police).  You see, contrary to gun controller rhetoric, guns are not made only to kill.

FURTHER INFO ABOUT THIS STUDY

Most of the studies are also misinterpreted in another important way.  These studies are mostly statistical analyses that are able to determine the extent to which various things are related to each other, and hence the extent to which certain factors can be used to predict others.  For example, a study could determine that the portion of the public that possesses firearms can be used to very crudely predict that a portion of the public will be killed with guns.  However, it would not be possible to determine from such studies that having the firearms caused the portion to be killed.

There are several reasons for the limitations of the statistical methods.  First, it is possible that some part of the possession of firearms is caused by the fact that a lot of people are at high risk of being victimized, and such high victimization rate includes a high rate of killing by those who victimize others.  That is, the killings cause part of the possession rather than the other way around.

Also, it is possible that two things that we might think are one cause and one effect might actually be, at least in part, both effects of some cause that we aren't even considering.  For example, it is possible that gun possession rate and killing rates are both "symptoms" of some other factor(s).

The doctors that have done the studies consistently show a lack of awareness of the fact that what they are finding is just that two things tend to exist simultaneously, not that one thing definitely causes the other.  In part this might be because of the unfortunate incorrect (over) usage of the word "risk" in the medical field.  And it might be partly because the determination that one thing must necessarily be the cause of the other may be more straightforward in the medical field than it is in the social sciences.

Finally, some of the studies are simply defective.  The studies that produced the "three times risk of homicide" and "five times risk of suicide" for guns kept in the home were both dependent upon "measurements" of the portions of "control" sample homes that had firearms in them.  But the measurement methods for determining these numbers were not valid and, indeed, were certain to greatly underestimate the true numbers.  These errors alone completely accounted for the "risks" the doctors came up with.  This error of method might well have been a result of the naïveté of the doctors in matters of firearms.

FURTHER INFO ABOUT ALL THE STUDIES RELATING TO GUNS IN THE HOME

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