Friday, March 07, 2008



That number seems to haunt us, we who own guns and profess that they are a valuable tool for sport, competition, self-defense and other legitimate purposes.. We see it quoted time and again, and yet how many of us are as aware of the significance of that number as are the liberal gun-grabbers . They use that number time and time again as a mantra to define how horrid is the state of owning firearms for self defense.

Yet they use that number badly, and ill-advisedly, to advance their hidden agenda. Few of us call them on it.

I am writing this in response to a recent article ("Another Debate Invitation Refused") from Kevin Bacon Baker of The Smallest Majority , who (in turn) writes in response to a gun-grabber article by Maggie Mahar's article titled "What Ever Happened to Gun Control?" (See also her article: "Update on Guns in America".)

Okay, if you've followed any of the tracks presented above, you understand the gist of it. If you haven't, here it is: Mahar cites (without actually citing the source) statistics which supposedly support the theme that 'owning a gun can get you killed'.

This is a common theme among gun grabbers, and they all tend to go to the same sources.

The money quote in Mahar's original presentation is that:
Guns kept in the home for self-protection are 43 times more likely to kill a family member, friend or acquaintance than to kill an intruder, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine
No, Mahar does not cite the source of this statistic. In fact, while she links to several political statements by (what else?) politicians, when it comes to supporting her thesis in fact, there is nothing ... nothing ... in her article which she can point to which actually supports her 'guns can get you killed' theme.

Still she must have some reason to cite this specific number. Some careful research (which Mahar has apparently failed to do) results in numerous citations which aver that the Kellerman study has been "widely debunked".

I know that those of you who are inclined to disbelieve ANY gun-control statistics are wildly prepared to accept any citation debunking the Kellerman study, which is the souce of the '43 times more likely' quote.

But those of you who are inclined to credit any statement which supports gun control are more likely to disavow such references.

(Confused by the previous paragraphs? Me too!)

So, to settle the issue, perhaps we should look at reference which is unlikely to consider a conservative viewpoint unless the question has been definitively settled.

Let's look at The Democratic Underground as a mutually reliable source:

You have problems with Lott, and then cite the Kellerman survey?

The Kellerman survey has been widely debunked, indeed far more widely discredited than Lott. Anyone doing the research you seem to have done would know that, of course. Funny you didn't mention it. Perhaps you had an agenda?

Lott's number might be controversial, but one thing that is irrefutable: forty states now have Shall Issue or better CCW laws, and yet the blood is not running in the streets as Brady Bunch and the VPC promised. Indeed, while violent crime has trended slightly upwards in the last year or so, during the course of this liberalization in CCW laws, violent crime has declined dramatically.

Clearly, there is no correlation between violent crime and CCW liberalization.
This statement is a little out of date: MORE than 40 states have "shall issue" Concealed Carry Weapon law; but the statement of fact from the Democratic Underground is still viable: Lott's statements have been proved correct, and Kellerman had been not only discredited, but "widely debunked".

Kellerman, who was the author of the study which concluded that "Guns kept in the home for self-protection are 43 times more likely to kill a family member, friend or acquaintance than to kill an intruder ..."
... was found to have been disingenuous in defining both "guns kept in the home" and "acquaintance".

Guns Kept In The Home:
In determining that "guns are kept in the home", Kellerman included any guns which were found in 'the home' when the police arrived after being called as a result of a violent incident. For example, if you had a 'violent' argument with your spouse, and a shotgun was found in the closet ... this became a data point.
Or, if your spouse died of a heart attack and a firearm was found on the premises: that's right; another data point. "Violence" was not an issue in this study, or it was loosely interpreted.

Of, if you were the victim of a 'home invasion" and the outside aggressor brought a gun with him ... Kellerman, for the purposes of this survey, considered that a "gun kept in the home".

Actually, it's a 'gun found in the home'. but who cares? Most of the cases Kellerman examined, because of the small community he chose to examine (see below) were members of the drug culture ... either as a dealer or as a buyer ... so they were more likely to 'have a gun', which was in opposition to current local ordnances anyway.

That is to say, many of the 'victims' were already un-prosecuted criminals because they understood that ... being outside the law anyway, they had more to lose from being unarmed (and thus subject to the Law of the Jungle) than by being armed.

IF you were the resident in a home which was intruded upon by the crack-dealer on the corner, and you had ever seen such crack-dealer before, he was adjudged to be an 'acquaintance' in The Kellerman Study. It didn't matter whether he was a friend of yours, whether or not you supported his entrepreneurship, whether you invited him into your home. It didn't even matter whether you knew his name (or he knew yours). The only thing that mattered, for the purpose of gathering statistics, was whether he was "an acquaintance" ... in the most general sense of the term.

In fact, for the purposes of the Kellerman Study, it didn't much matter who got killed. If you were the homeowner, and there was a firearm in the home, and someone died ... this statistic was added. If you were the victim, a big red check-mark was racked up on your "bad boy" sheet. Was the only gun that which was brought into the home by the assailant? Okay, that's a bad on you ... even if you were the one who died.

The verbiage of 'The Study" strongly suggested the (a) you owned the gun; (b) you fired the gun, (c) the victim was a family member. Or a 'friend' or 'acquaintance' ... someone whom you felt comfortable, in normal circumstances, with inviting into your home.

This is a long way from the more common scenario, where the dude on the corner barged into your house and shot somebody. Yet, for the purposes of the Kellerman Study, the two scenarios were equivalently weighted.

"Don't let nobody tell you any different, Dearie"

Final Factor:
The ultimate factor which put the kibosh on the Kellerman Study was that he didn't choose just 'any' neighborhood to gather his statistics; he chose the raunchiest neighborhood he could find.

Rather than gathering statistics from a mixed-culturally neighborhood, Kellerman chose the most racially biased neighborhood he could find. Which is to say that he found an urban black neighborhood with a history of violence. Well, where else are you to find a population with a history of violence other than in an urban neighborhood? And without a history of violence, he was unlikely to find a plethora of violent incidents with which to support this pre-disposed conclusion?

Are you a Wyoming rancher? An Oregon State University Faculty Member? An Arizona employee of the local Auto-Zone franchise? It doesn't matter. Kellerman has analyzed Inner City violence, and if you have a firearm in your home, the odds are 43 to 1 (whatever that means) that if you have a firearm in you home, you are "more likely" to "kill a friend, family member or acquaintance" than to .... what? (Kellerman is conveniently vague about the alternatives here.)

So, the next time someone posits the "43 times more likely" charge in a conversation with you, be sure to challenge them on the basis of their postulation. And if the name "Kellerman" ever arises, be sure to poke them in the nose for me.

Not because they are disingenuous (which, in the best case they are), and not because they are knowingly citing bogus statistics (which they certainly are), but because they have so little respect for you that they are willing to espouse a talking point which has been 'debunked' by BOTH sides of the gun-control issue, and they think you are so STUPID that you don't know the difference between an ordinary lie, and a "Damned Lie".

They deserve it. Trust me on this one.

UPDATE: 10-MAR-2008
In response to a comment, I corrected spelling of Kevin Baker's name.
While updating this article, I decided to decided to update my data research; in doing so, I found a reference to a similar statement. (Note: the original statement was in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine; this article was in the "Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics". The title of the found article was "Attitudes of New York City High School Students Regarding Firearm Violence" by Kahn, et al. The original article was by Kellerman and a co-author.)

The found article include the quote ... not quite as it has been cited elsewhere ... reading:
"In reality, guns kept in the home are 43 times more likely to be used to kill someone known to the family than to be used to kill in self defense".

The citation was to "Kellerman AL, Reay DT Protection or peril: An analysis of firearm-related deaths in the home. N Engl J Med 1986; 314:1557-1560";
That was linked to a one-paragraph abstract, which in turn referenced the table of contents for that issue .... but the full-text of the article was not available there.

I've followed this trail before, from other research, and I have concluded that attempting to fine the full text of the original article is defeated by the N Engl J Med, which no longer provides the full text of any articles in this issue.

Well, it was published over 21 years ago, and even though it was a socially controversial statement the Journal found no reason to maintain availability; if for no other reason, they might be encouraged to discontinue the link because it was so controversial.

Without the original source, it's impossible to determine the exact phraseology of the statement. However, the Keep and Bear Arms website includes this reference ...

Those who oppose the use of firearms for self-defense have for fourteen years quoted a study by Arthur Kellermann and Donald Reay published in the June 12, 1986 issue of New England Journal of Medicine (v. 314, n. 24, p. 1557-60) which concluded that a firearm in the home is "43 times more likely" to be used to kill a member of the household than to kill a criminal intruder. [emphasis added by Geek] This "statistic" is used regularly by anti self-protection groups which surely know better, and was even published recently without question in a letter to the Ann Arbor News. Representative Liz Brater cited this "43 times" number in a House committee hearing just a year ago. Thus the original study and its conclusion deserve careful analysis. If nothing else, the repeated use of this "statistic" demonstrates how a grossly inaccurate statement can become a "truth" with sufficient repetition by the compliant and non-critical media.

... which supports the text quoted by
Kahn, et al.

For this reason, several of the statements I have made may be misleading: it accepted the quote provided by the Mahar article which read " ...more likely to kill a family member, friend or acquaintance than to kill an intruder ... ".

There are so many interpretations of the supposed key statement, it's impossible to definitively know exactly WHAT Kellerman really said. "Family Member, friend or acquaintance" (Mahar) is not exactly the same as "someone known to the family" (Kahn), and that is not exactly the same as "member of the household" (Keep and Bear Arms).

Personally, given no better criteria, I would cleave to the Kahn quote (
"someone known to the family") as the authors are more likely to haver read the original as a professional researcher in the same profession, and the cited source is dated 2000 ... and thus more likely to have had access to the original article.

Full Disclosure is so messy. Now I have some idea of how Bellesiles might have felt ... if he were intellectually honest.

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