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February 8, 2019

‘Study’ Misled with the Data, But Made News


By Larry Keane

A “study” released at the end of last year predictably sparked headlines such as “US Leads the World in Child Gun Deaths.” Because this illustrates a familiar pattern, it deserves our attention still.

We know fatal firearm accidents are down, and near historic lows. We know that there are drastic differences between firearm accidents involving young children, and gang-related gun crime among teenagers and young adults. Combining the two and calling the result “child gun deaths” is deliberately misleading at best. We also know that other countries have far higher rates of firearm fatalities than the U.S. These facts beg the question – what does this new study really say?

When a Study Is Not a Study

It’s worth noting right off the bat that this is not a study, rather it is a “Special Report,” published by the New England Journal of Medicine. No real analysis is conducted by the authors. They are merely presenting public data, carefully framed to suit their pre-determined narrative. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

And the data show a very different picture than the headlines suggest. Here’s what you see in Table 1.

As we have discussed here before, it is misleading to compare all car accidents with all firearm incidents (accidents combined with cases of deliberate criminal misuse or suicides). This table shows why it is so tempting for gun control groups to do so. There were 4,074 deaths of those aged 0-19 in 2016 due to car accidents. The figure for firearms accidents: 126.

Industry Addresses Real Issues Head On

The firearms and ammunition industry is dedicated to finding ways to keep guns away from those who should not have access. That’s why the industry continues to work with 15,000 law enforcement agencies to put gun safety kits, including gun locks, into more American households through Project ChildSafe®. We have distributed more than 38 million safety kits with cable-style gun locks to date. Manufacturers have supplied several times more locks with the purchase of new firearms.

Even looking at the tragic incidents of suicide for children and young adults, there are more suicides by suffocation than by firearm. The firearms industry, like everyone else, sees the increasing problem of suicides as a crucial mental health issue and has partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs to help address this issue.

These two programs are among the reasons we talk about what we do as an industry to provide real solutions that make our communities safer.

But there is more to the “special report” than this one table. It also argues that there is a higher rate of both motor vehicle-related and firearm-related fatalities among children and young adults in the U.S. than in other countries. The authors of course defend the car-related deaths, arguing we have more cars. But when it comes to firearms, they inaccurately cite a statistic that 43 percent of homes with youth under 18 that have a firearm leave the firearm “unlocked and loaded.” The study footnoted to defend that quote does not show that to be the case, and says this is true for only about 9 percent of households.

Even beyond this, the data just do not square with other studies of international firearms fatalities.

We know that it is too much to expect that before media outlets publish or post sensational headlines that do not reflect reality, that they assign staff to do a little actual research. They say they are just reporting. Readers and viewers can decide. So, we caution skepticism whenever you see news accounts on reports of the latest alarming statistics involving the misuse of firearms. The pattern is familiar. Be alert to detecting when a preferred narrative is being fed.

You may also be interested in:

Firearms-Related Policy Research Done Right

Working to Prevent Tragedies vs. Waiting to Exploit Them