We are going outside our normal finance and economics focus to discuss a new study on guns, because it provides an opportunity to advance Naked Capitalism’s overarching mission, that of promoting critical thinking.
Major media outlets, such at Reuters, Time, and Newsweek, have quickly and dutifully reported on a study described in the New England Journal of Medicine’s “Correspondence” section, with a dramatic finding: that gun-elated injuries fall nationwide by roughly 20% during NRA annual conventions.
We identified emergency department visits and hospitalizations for firearm injuries during NRA convention dates and during identical days in the 3 weeks before and 3 weeks after NRA conventions in a national database of privately insured patients during 2007 through 2015. We estimated the rates of firearm injuries during convention dates versus control dates in a beneficiary-level multivariable linear regression of firearm injury (a binary variable) as a function of indicator variables for convention and control dates, patient age, sex, indicators for calendar week and year, and state fixed effects. We conducted subgroup analyses according to census region and state-level stratum of gun-ownership rates, hypothesizing that larger reductions in the rates of injury would occur in areas with more firearm use; according to patient sex, hypothesizing that larger reductions would occur among males, who disproportionately attend NRA meetings5; and according to whether a convention was held in a beneficiary’s state, hypothesizing that larger reductions would occur when conventions are easier to attend. In addition, we used the National Incident-Based Reporting System to analyze the proportion of crimes involving a firearm that occurred during convention versus control dates…
Reductions in firearm injuries during convention dates were largest among men, in the South and West, in states in the highest third of gun-ownership rates, and among people who resided in the state hosting the convention. There was no difference in the proportion of crimes involving a firearm between convention and control dates.
The press reports often take care to point out that the analysis establishes only a correlation, not a causal relationship. Not surprisingly, the NRA reacted heatedly. From Newsweek:
Jennifer Baker, a spokesperson for the NRA, told CNN that the study’s results were “absurd,” adding, “This study claims that firearms-related injury plummets 20 percent nationwide when less than one-tenth of 1 percent of gun owners attend this event? That’s absurd. You don’t have to be a Harvard researcher to see those numbers simply don’t add up.”
Curiously, Baker, who ought to know better, neglected to mention that many shooting ranges close during the NRA convention. It isn’t clear whether that is due to the decline in usage making it an attractive time for facility owners to take a break, or that the owners themselves or enough of their staffers attend the convention, making it problematic to keep the business open on a normal schedule at that time.
But that quote was not my main reason for writing. This one, from the Boston Globe, caught my attention:
“Fewer people using guns means fewer gun injuries, which in some ways is not surprising,” said Anupam Jena, senior author of the study and the Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. “But the drop in gun injuries during these large meetings attended by thousands of well-trained gun owners seems to refute the idea that gun injuries stem solely from lack of experience and training in gun use.”
Here is the problem with that statement: the assumption, perhaps out of deference to the NRA, that gun enthusiasts are necessarily all or largely “well-trained” and by implication safer gun users.
The reason for questioning the no-doubt positive assessment that NRA members would give of their practices is that self-scoring has been regularly demonstrated to be flattering. Garrison Keeler wasn’t joking when he said all children are above average. 80% of drivers say they are above average drivers, which is clearly not possible.
In the absence of an objective standard of what gun safety or being well trained amounts to, it isn’t at all clear that the majority of NRA members are in fact “well trained”.
Another possibility is that some gun users may not follow the training they received all that well. I read a summary of a study, but due to the crapification of Google, cannot find it again, that concluded that individuals who were instructed in gun safety before they started using firearms followed those practices, but those schooled later didn’t.
While I am not a gun user, I grew up in a household where guns were kept under lock and key, with the ammo stored separately, also under lock and key. It would be useful if this NRA study generated more research into how gun owners use, handle, and store their guns. The fact that this study gave an indication that “experienced” gun users are part of the gun injury problem will hopefully lead to more examination of the range of practices among gun enthusiasts, as opposed to blind acceptance of NRA bluster.
Now if the habits I saw at home are indeed a widely-accepted notion of how to handle guns safely, it’s at odds with the idea of having guns close at hand to defend against an intruder. Again, while there’s no way of knowing, I wonder how many gun owners keep a pistol in a nightstand, which would seem like a prescription for accidents or use in a domestic argument. Even though I seldom circulate with firearms owners, I have been in a car with a Wall Street buddy who had a loaded pistol on the front seat between us, which made me incredibly nervous, and have also had a friend in Dallas tell me she was the only woman in her circle who did not carry a gun in her purse. Another time was in Dallas when the couple I was with ran back to their SUV to lock it because they had 2000 round of ammo inside. I didn’t ask, but I assuem they also had a revolver in the glove compartment, since the wife later said she’d recently been held up by a kid with a BB gun despite having a weapon in the car (and oddly, she seemed blind to the fact that the robbery proved her self-defense strategy wasn’t effective).
In other words, I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of these “experienced” gun owners don’t hew to the sort of practices that my father and his fellow hunters observed.