Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Plural of Anecdote is Not Data

(btw, that phrase I titled this with seems to be trending; I'm seeing it a lot lately; it leads the comments in the linked blogpost)

Here's where Leamur gets on her soapbox again and re-posts a whole article so the Imaginary Reader doesn't even have to click through.

To bottom-line it: Having a gun in your home doesn't make you safer. It increases the risk that you will become a victim of gun violence. (And IMO there is just no need for any of my neighbors to own an assault rifle like a Bushmaster "for self-defense." That's just idiotic. There are not elephants roaming the streets of our towns and suburbs.)

I should preface this by noting explicitly that this is not really about the Fox-bashing (well-deserved as it is), although that seems to be the hook writer Chelsea Rudman begins with in this blog post on Media Matters. Here it is:

Fox News has repeatedly hidden the danger of keeping guns in homes behind a handful of anecdotes about home owners who frightened off criminals with their own firearms. Research actually shows that guns kept in homes are far more likely to kill or injure those living there than deter crime.

On Monday's edition of America Live, host Megyn Kelly juxtaposed reports that the White House may push for laws to prevent gun violence with a story about a homeowner near Atlanta who successfully repelled a burglar with her gun. Kelly said that the home invasion "could have ended tragically for a family, but for the fact that the mother had a .38 revolver and knew how to use it."

As correspondent Mike Emanuel gave a report on the White House's interest in gun-violence legislation, text aired on-screen that read: "Mom's Shooting of Intruder Puts New Twist On Gun Control Debate."

[In the blogpost there is an embedded video of the offending news clip, which I have declined to reproduce here, since it does not deserve the attention.] The blog piece continues:

On the December 5 edition of The Five, the co-hosts recited two stories of homeowners who had repelled invading criminals with firearms in the first five minutes of the show. Co-host Andrea Tantaros concluded that "burglars are less apt to break in if they think they might have their brains blown out."

Yet Fox's emphasis on these reports hides the fact that such successful self-defense stories are extremely rare. In a 2011 report summarizing scientific literature about the health risks and benefits of having a gun in the home, David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, found that one study in Atlanta determined victims of break-ins used firearms in self-defense 1.5 percent of the time. Hemenway cited a second study that found guns were used in self-defense by victims of sexual assault in fewer than 0.1 percent of incidents. He concluded that "genuine self-defense gun use is rare" and that "the evidence does not indicate that having a gun reduces the risk of being a victim of a crime or that having a gun reduces the risk of injury during the commission of a crime."

In fact, research has repeatedly found that a gun kept in one's home is far more likely to injure or kill those inside the home. Hemenway wrote that many studies found "that a gun in the home is a risk for homicide in the home" and determined, "The evidence is overwhelming for the fact that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide and that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns." The Harvard Injury Control Research Center described a separate study [Click through to this! You won't be sorry!] conducted by Hemenway by saying that "[g]uns in the home are used more often to intimidate intimates than to thwart crime." A 2004 study [This one, too! Actual data included!] published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that "having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home."

The blog-piece ends with this very poorly worded mess from the Brady Campaign website that should actually read, "For each time a gun kills or injures in self-defense, there are corresponding incidents in which a gun has been used..." etc. It's not the same gun, and the 11 attempted or completed suicides, 7 criminal assaults or homicides, and 4 unintentional shooting deaths or injuries per instance of use in self-defense are not happening at the same time or in any way in tandem with the use of the gun in self-defense. I realize the Brady Campaign's website employs flacks rather than journalists, but really, guys? Are you excused from making sense when you're paid to make a point? Aren't you also paid to not embarrass your cause? Chelsea should have left this out. :/

On its website, The Brady Campaign, citing a 1998 study by public health expert Arthur Kellermann, states:

Every time a gun injures or kills in self-defense, it is used:
■11 times for completed and attempted suicides (Kellermann, 1998, p. 263).
■7 times in criminal assaults and homicides, and
■4 times in unintentional shooting deaths or injuries.

Now I'm not against the 2nd Amendment; I think our Constitution is great. I am against Propaganda For Fun And Profit, aka Lying To People In A Big Way Because Our Sponsors Pay Us To. People need to know the facts in order to make informed decisions. That's what this is about. People need to know that guns don't make them safer, that to the contrary, they increase risk. That's why this re-post and rant.

And TMI: While there were all those news stories out about Adam Lanza's poor mom and what a great person she was, all I could think was "What kind of mother keeps any guns in the home where she lives with her mentally impaired/disabled son? And a Bushmaster?! Seriously?!" But me, I was pissed when someone sold my schizophrenic 2nd cousin (who patiently played chess with me when I was a child, even though he was much better than me) the gun he used to blow his brains out in the woods near Sag Harbor because he thought all the people he knew had been replaced by robots. Maybe that makes me biased, I dunno. But that's my anecdote, and according to *actual* data, there are a lot more people out there with anecdotes like mine than like the mom-shot-an-intruder one. But when ours make it to the news, nobody puts it in the context of gun control/availability.

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