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April 21, 2023

False Headlines, Bad Data Leads to Bad Antigun Policies

By Salam Fatohi

When it comes to guns, there is little to no hope for the average American to get a fair shot at accurate statistics.

Instead of the truth, the public receives the illusion of truth, repeated by media anchors, talking heads and spokespeople, government officials and gun control advocates. Much of what is passed off as fact these days about guns is propaganda: misinformation about Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs), defensive use of firearms and the promised effectiveness of various firearm restrictions for law-abiding Americans, to name a few.

One of the most damning and easily refutable claims is that firearms are the leading cause of childhood fatalities. Motor vehicle accidents have exceeded counts of firearm fatalities for children since 2001, the oldest record from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows. Regardless of how loud gun control pundits yell or repeat their false claims, that hasn’t changed.

Manipulating Data

A recent claim about guns surpassing motor vehicles as the leading cause of childhood fatalities made headlines and came from a 2022 University of Michigan (U of M) study. No one dismisses the tragic murders of children by criminals and the mentally-deranged. The firearm industry is working for Real Solutions® to ensure firearms stay out of the hands of those who should never possess them. However, the study doesn’t dismiss slanting the computation to include adults in the statistics to make firearms the top reason for child fatalities to put that category ahead of motor vehicles as a more deadly mechanism.

U of M led the misinformation campaign with government-funded organizations like NPR promulgating the obvious misinformation. Politico also recently promoted the same misinformation from a similar study. Just because misconstrued data is widely and continually shared, it does not increase its veracity. Instead, often the opposite effect happens where readers simply accept what’s being shared as fact due to the ubiquitous nature of the information. The danger here is that a herd-mentality of acceptance takes hold rather than casting a critical eye and properly vetting the data.

Using CDC’s WISQARS, it is easy to decipher that the leading cause of death for children – aged 17 years old and younger – has been motor vehicles for the past 20 years. This is nothing to celebrate but it is important to point out the facts. Antigun proponents were initially adding adults, aged 18 and 19 years old, into the count or using a specific subset of motor vehicle accidents to make firearm fatality numbers surpass motor vehicles for cause of death. This was refuted last year, so it was curious, but not surprising, to hear the same narrative repeated again. Now talking heads are using age-adjusted rates instead of total figures to justify their claim.

Motor Vehicle Fatality Compared to Firearms

Changing how the data is packaged to justify a talking point is bad, but misrepresentation to cheat law-abiding Americans out of their fundamental Constitutional rights is reprehensible.

Annually from 2001 to 2020, motor vehicles were the leading cause of death of more kids aged <1 to 17 than firearm misuse. So-called researchers claimed that children were dying more from firearms even though motor vehicles still amass higher counts. In fact, the 20-year metrics for both mechanisms show motor vehicles more than doubling the number of childhood deaths by firearms.

Notably, these two injury mechanisms have different leading intents. Most motor vehicle fatalities for this population are unintentional. Homicide makes up almost 60 percent of childhood firearm deaths and predominantly affects older teens. It is no secret that gangs target impressionable and vulnerable youths to participate in crime. These same criminals are also more likely to use firearms, illegally obtained, to commit homicide. Targeting the root cause of socioeconomic factors to reduce all violent crime would do much more to prevent unnecessary loss of life than to enact bans that only law-abiding citizens would observe.

Real Solutions to Help Solve the Problem

The firearm and ammunition industry actively pursues Real Solutions® for unauthorized access to firearms and suicide prevention while antigun advocates are solely seeking bans and restrictions. Bans and restrictions do not reduce crime. They only reduce rights. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Director Steven Dettelbach recently commended firearm industry efforts to combat crime, which is the main driver of childhood fatalities with firearms.

Propagandists who knowingly push cherry-picked and incomplete information inflict genuine harm for the issues they misrepresent and the conversation around firearm safety is not exempt. Providing a comprehensive picture of reality allows the public to better understand the issues and make informed decisions. Preventing harm and misuse of firearms should be a priority for everyone.

Muddying the waters with patently false claims and stringing together correlation with no causation is distracting, at best.

You may also be interested in:

University of Michigan’s Honorary Doctorate in Gun Control Disinformation

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