The Research We Need

The congressional restriction on funding research that advocates gun control has been maligned of late, enabled by a combination of national amnesia and ignorance.

Those old enough to remember the legislation in the first place may have forgotten the reason for it. Those too young to have known about it need a history lesson.

In 1993, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded study called “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home” was published by University of Tennessee researchers.

From its premise to its proxy interview-control methodology, it was junk science rather than scholarly study right out of the gate. Its opening sentence framed its failure: “It is unknown whether keeping a firearm in the home confers protection against crime or, instead, increases the risk of violent crime in the home.”

Violent crime is not a germ, and firearms neither a stimulus nor their absence a vaccine. Violent crime situations are as different as night and day, and those differences completely distort and discolor all risk factors accordingly.

Lumping domestic violence in with robbery in an attempt to understand risk factors or prevention of crime is academically irresponsible. All the complicating emotional circumstances surrounding an intimate relationship are radically disparate from those involving a calculated crime for gain.

Additionally, by limiting the study to homicides “in the home” committed in only three urban areas (one of which was Memphis), the small subset of killings (420 over a five-year period) was so skewed in nature that it was impossible to project the findings across any large-scale population.

The homes studied were low-quintile income, mostly black, high school-only educated, inner-city households with disturbing social characteristics. More than half the households contained members with arrest records, and featured higher than average alcohol consumption.

One in four households reported physical fights while drinking, and one in three admitted illegal drug usage. Every other household (49 percent) included a member who either had trouble at work because of drinking, or had been hospitalized for alcohol abuse or for injuries received in a fight at home.

The case group hardly represented a slice of average Americana.

And why restrict the study to homicide cases? Guns are successfully used all the time for protection and prevention of crime without being fired; just ask any police officer.

Essentially, the study’s main finding was that for people living in highly unstable urban households rife with substance abuse, criminal activity and domestic violence, bringing a gun into that mix was counterproductive.

What it did not prove or find in any demonstrable way was that which it claimed in its conclusion: “Our data indicate that keeping a gun in the home is independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide in the home.”

That kind of sweeping mis-statement is precisely the kind of partial truth that seeks to make a liar out of reality–and gets your funding agency angrily rebuked by Congress. What the government thought it funded was a study on violence by armed offenders; what it got was propaganda denouncing gun ownership.

Since 27 percent of the killings tracked in the study were stabbing deaths, researchers could have identified keeping knives in the kitchen as increasing the risk of homicide in the home, too. Statistically, some enterprising researcher might pitch a convincing case that as gun control statutes were added to federal and state books, gun crime actually increased. But tax dollars shouldn’t fund that sort of oversimplified rubbish.

The research we need that would be worth paying for is a comprehensive study of violence, period.

Violent crime is a big problem, and it’s caused by violent people. It’s not the same problem everywhere. It varies from state to state and town to town, with tiny pockets of intense geographic concentration.

Violent criminals don’t care what your plans are, what appointments or meetings you have, who is depending on you, how much you’re loved, what good you’ll do tomorrow. Robbers steal your human and civil rights while taking your money. Rapists viciously violate spirit and psyche as well as a woman’s body. Assailants employing potentially deadly force destroy democracy one citizen at a time.

As recent events have shown, violent murderers can use a knife to randomly murder a restaurant patron or a car to become a mass killer, in addition to taking a rifle to a Waffle House.

Senseless murders or mass killings defy, by definition, common sense. That’s why we need to know more about what gives people the capability for lethal violence. The cruel criminals who routinely hurt and kill others are very different from you and me.

Their costly, wasteful scourge on American society has victimized more than 56 million Americans since 1978. In the time it takes to say “One Mississippi,” three more Americans were just violently attacked. “Two Mississippi,” another three.

Four decades later, at a national cost of trillions in victims’ medical care and lost productivity and counting, we know virtually nothing more now about whatever it is that makes violent people different from the rest of us.

It’s time we find out. At least, it’s time we invest in trying.

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