- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2000

There is no doubt that gun-control advocates will exploit the tragic shooting death of 6-year old Kayla Rolland by a 6-year old classmate and the shooting of five persons in Pittsburgh restaurants. Adding fuel to this fire may be a study published in the current Journal of the American Medical Association.
A ban on the carrying of firearms in Cali and Bogota, Colombia, was statistically associated with a reduction in homicides, according to a study by University of Washington and Emory University researchers. But the study is just more junk science-fueled, anti-gun propaganda.
The researchers, led by longstanding gun-control advocate Arthur Kellerman, compared homicide rates on days when gun-carrying was banned with rates on days when gun-carrying was legal. Enforcement of the gun bans included establishment of police checkpoints and searching of individuals during traffic stops and other routine law enforcement activity.
Based on 4,078 homicides during 1993 and 1994 in Cali and 9,106 homicides in Bogota during 1995 through August 1997, the researchers reported the homicide rates were lower by 14 percent and 13 percent in Cali and Bogota, respectively.
The researchers conclude: "Constitutional restrictions on police search procedures would prevent transferring the methods used in Cali and Bogota to any city in the United States. Our study suggests that police programs such as those applied in Cali and Bogota can suppress interpersonal violence and save lives. This kind of program may be suitable for regions of the world where homicide rates are very high and programs of this type are permissible."
An accompanying editorial was less considerate of the Constitution. It concluded: "Based on the quasi-experimental evidence on gun-carrying enforcement, it seems implausible that further repeal of U.S. laws against carrying concealed weapons would cause fewer gun injuries and homicides."
But Mr. Kellerman, his co-authors and JAMA are going off only half-cocked if that.
First, even accepting the reported results at face value, it's not clear the Colombian experience with guns and homicide is even remotely relevant to that of the United States. The Colombian homicide rate was 88 per 100,000 in 1993. The homicide rate in Cali was 124 per 100,000 in 1994.
The U.S. homicide rate for 1993 was 9.5 per 100,000. Since then, the U.S. rate dipped to 6.3 percent, while the Colombian homicide rate rose to about 15 times that in the United States. Much of this violence is related to the undeclared civil war involving leftist guerrillas and right-wing militias both involved in drug trafficking.
But this isn't the study's only or even primary flaw.
The study data actually show that, in terms of crude homicide rate, there were 50 percent and 37 percent more homicides in Cali and Bogota, respectively, on days when the guns were banned. To produce the reported results, the researchers applied to the crude rates a rarely used and questionable statistical technique called "indirect standardization."
It's not necessary to discuss the merits of indirect standardization because the underlying data are problematic. The authors note that 21 percent of the Cali homicides and 26 percent of the Bogota homicides were not firearm related. Yet, these homicides were included in the analysis.
Given the relatively large percentage of irrelevant data and the statistical marginality of the reported results, the study has little scientific credibility. But I'm not surprised since Mr. Kellerman is involved.
Mr. Kellerman is a pioneer in the study of gun violence as a health issue. Reportedly, his interest was sparked by the death of Motown singer Marvin Gaye, who had been shot by his father in a domestic argument. Mr. Kellerman questions gun ownership on a moral and ethical level, asking whether families are making their households and communities safer by owning guns. His crusade has little use for good science and the scientific method.
Mr. Kellerman co-authored a 1986 New England Journal of Medicine study reporting that of 398 persons killed in a home where a gun was kept, only two were intruders shot while trying to enter. The study concluded that "the advisability of keeping firearms in the home for protection must be questioned." But Mr. Kellerman and his co-author only considered the relatively few cases involving death. They ignored the vast majority of cases in which burglars or intruders were wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm.
Mr. Kellerman also has refused to share his study data with other scientists, despite receiving federal grants through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
JAMA and Peter Cummings, a co-author of the JAMA study, may also have less-than-scientific motives.
In September 1997, JAMA published a study co-authored by Mr. Cummings reporting that in states with felony laws requiring safe gun storage, accidental deaths of children by gunfire dropped by more than 40 percent. Publication of the study coincided with the campaign for Initiative 676 in Washington state, a provision that would, among other things, require trigger locks on all handguns sold or transferred.
The then-JAMA editor George Lundberg denied the timing of the study had anything to do with the Washington state initiative.
Sure. Mr. Lundberg eventually was fired in January 1999 by JAMA for timing publication of an old survey of college students about oral sex to coincide with President Clinton's impeachment trial.
To the extent this study is used in the public policy debate about firearms, it will be the gun-control advocates that are getting away with murder.

Steven J. Milloy is a biostatistician, lawyer, publisher of Junkscience.com and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

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