Thursday, October 22, 2009

For a decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been forbidden by Congress from doing research on gun-control issues. Such piddling hurdles as federal law don’t matter to the Obama administration.

With a wave of a hand, the CDC has simply redefined gun-control research so the ban no longer applies. They’re not researching guns; they’re researching alcohol sales and their impact on gun violence, or researching how teens carrying guns affect the rates of non-gun injuries. “These particular grants do not address gun control; rather they deal with the surrounding web of circumstances,” wrote National Institutes of Health (NIH) spokesman Don Ralbovsky.

Gun-control advocates claim that banning the CDC from examining gun control amounts to a gag order on science. After all, what can be wrong with further scientific inquiry? But the issue isn’t about scientific inquiry. It is whether government resources should be used to promote an ideological agenda.

Take the Obama administration’s justification for its new gun research. “Gun-related violence is a public health problem - it diverts considerable health care resources away from other problems and, therefore, is of interest to NIH,” wrote the agency spokesman in an e-mail responding to questions from Republican members of Congress about new grants the CDC is giving out. The statement assumes the conclusion of the research before the first study is done.

The research on right-to-carry laws illustrates the problem with the CDC. Dozens of refereed academic studies by economists and criminologists using national data have been published in journals. While the vast majority of those studies find that right-to-carry laws save lives and reduce harm to victims, some studies claim that the laws have no statistically significant effect. But most tellingly, there is not a single published refereed academic study by a criminologist or economist showing a bad effect from these laws.

Look at the refereed academic research on laws that require people to lock up their guns in their homes. The number of accidental gun deaths and suicides of children remain unchanged, but the number of murders and other crimes rises. This is not too surprising as the locks make it more difficult for potential victims to quickly obtain a gun for protection, hence criminals are less likely to be deterred. Accidental gun deaths aren’t affected because most involve guns fired by adults with criminal records.

The research on guns that the CDC conducted before the ban - and that “public health” advocates continue to produce - is a joke. The statistical methods to research people’s behavior, such as criminal activity, are different from methods used to evaluate drug efficacy, where controlled experiments can be done.

In drug studies, patients don’t determine who gets the real drug and who gets the placebo. In real life, gun ownership isn’t assigned randomly. People who are more likely to be victims are more likely to own guns. They may still be more likely to be victims even after getting a gun, but are much less likely to be a victim than they would have been if they had never gotten one.

The CDC’s brazen end run around restrictions on gun-control research is hardly surprising given that when President Obama served on the board of the Joyce Foundation, it was the largest private funder of gun-ban research in the country. Now he has the resources of the whole federal government.

First we’ll get the half-baked studies followed by fawning press coverage. Then Democratic politicians and activists will pretend the gun restrictions they’ve always wanted were spurred by the new government research.

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