Should The CDC Sponsor Gun Research?

It has been more than 30 years since the CDC eliminated gun violence from its research budget, but the hiatus may be coming to an end. The Democrats have stuck $50 million into the CDC budget, whether the line item will survive the usual horse-trading between the House and the Senate remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the fact that the funding of gun research is even being discussed by all the Democratic Presidential candidates is a development which many of us believed we would never live to see.

That being the case, I find myself in something of a dilemma because I am not sure that any of this research will necessarily yield positive results. Why do I say this? How can I afford to disagree so radically from a time-honored narrative supported by virtually everyone who wants gun violence to come to an end? After all, public policies should always be based on valid research, and who can provide such research about gun violence except my friends in public health?

 There’s only one little problem. Which is that the research activity on gun violence done by public health scholars to date lacks one, fundamental element that should be present in all evidence-based research, namely, a self-imposed requirement that the point of publishing research is to invite, indeed demand public critiques from other researchers in the same field.

Unfortunately, public health gun research is the only field of academic research which can’t seem to ever produce public debate of any kind. If I had a nickel for every gallon of ink spilled by public health researchers on the so-called mistakes made by John Lott, I could stop working for a living, go down to Delray Beach and buy a condo at King’s Point. On the other hand, if I had a nickel for every ounce of ink that public health researchers have spilled criticizing the work of themselves or their peers, maybe I should go down to Lake Okeechobee and rent an unfurnished trailer at Canal Point.

And by the way, I’m not so sure that Lott’s thesis about more legally-owned guns resulting in less crime is necessarily all that wrong. If you eliminate the words ‘legally-owned’ from his argument, what he says may be more correct than not. The problem with John’s work is that he assumes something about the spread of concealed-carry laws (CCW) which probably isn’t true; namely, that criminals intent on attacking someone else usually commit violent crimes against law-abiding folks.

In fact, most victims of violent crimes happen to be the same kinds of people who commit those crimes; younger, minority males living in inner-city neighborhoods being the most typical types of people treated in the ER for gun injuries, fatal or not. These young men don’t have CCW but probably more of them are now walking around with illegal guns. For all we know, Lott’s thesis that armed, self-defense may be an effective deterrent to violent crime might be correct, even if this deterrence factor is most frequently found within the criminal-prone population itself.

I began thinking about the ‘more guns = less crime’ argument from this perspective after reading research on gun violence published by criminologists, scholars for example like Marvin Wolfgang, whose studies on both teen-age delinquency and homicide have never been surpassed. Of course Wolfgang, considered by some to be the ‘most influential criminologist in the English-speaking world,’ is persona non-grata in the public health field since he had the audacity to suggest that maybe Gary Kleck’s research on armed, self-defense should not be simply dismissed.

I simply do not understand how anyone can claim to be conducting ‘evidence-based research’ when the evidence is never subject to public, critical review. Of course I hope the CDC restores funding for gun research, but I would also hope that the resumption of such funding be tied to some degree of critical, self-analysis by the public health research community itself.

I may be the smartest person I ever met, but there are plenty of folks who would disagree. Which is why anyone is free to post a comment on what I write.

5 thoughts on “Should The CDC Sponsor Gun Research?

  1. Its never been clear to me that some of the gun violence publications I’ve read are critically peer reviewed by knowledgeable skeptics demanding solid hypothesis testing. How Kalesan’s paper managed to be published in The Lancet without major revision is beyond me. I think to some degree it is a mutual admiration society of question-beggers. Aside from a very few folks, the authors of these studies study the victims rather than the perps so no one asks “why the Hell did you do that?”.

    I don’t think it takes more PhD level research to figure out why people get shot.We have all the data we need. What is needed is the political saavy to both reduce the easy availability of handguns to people who misuse them and to also eliminate to the extent possible the sociological factors that result in people having nothing better to do than shoot each other. Los Alamos vs. Albuquerque, N.Chicago v S. Chicago, etc. Its not hard to figure out that gun violence is an outgrowth of our society’s inequality rather than something analogous to a disease that simply wafts through the air.

  2. You et the CDC should fund research. Proper information is a necessity in this debate.

    The fact that the “pro-gun” side cut the funding set off alarm bells in my head. What do they have to fear if the facts are on their side/

    • The Dickey Amendment simply said that CDC researchers could not use Federal grant funds to advocate or lobby for partisan policy because some of us thought it was a blatant misuse of Federal funds. That’s simple enough. When one wears two hats such as researcher and advocate (Webster, Hemenway, Kalesan, a few others) it raises questions about two things: objectivity and billable costs. That, by the way, is why Jim Hansen quit his high level job at NASA when he found himself being a vocal advocate for climate change.

      One, objectivity. As Mike says, you rarely hear much internal criticism about gun violence prevention research and whether the ideas can swim in the deep end of the pool. In a rare bit of crossfire, Dan Webster and Cass Crifasi harshly criticized Prof. Kalesan’s Lancet paper (mainly because they thought that their own work would find itself downwind of that brown-spewing fan) whereas David Hemenway said words to the effect that well, she was on the right track.

      Two, whether the money is being spent on actual critical research or on the advocacy work. A separate question is whether it is good research. For example, one has to search this site for Mike’s comments about Donohoe’s work to find the holes in it, not so much in the CDC literature unless I missed it.

      Separately to all this, the GOP dominated Congresses cut funding for gun research due to pro gun lobbying and other cultural stuff. But many other pots of gold still exist, as demonstrated by the continued fact of more publications. The constant bellyaching about CDC not funding gun research is in no small part political bellyaching and wanting to have Federal money for one’s graduate students. I’ve seen NSF and NOAA review panel reports. They are a lot tougher than I suspect CDC panels on GVP grants would ever be. But that is a data free hunch as I’ve never seen a CDC review panel report on a GV research grant.

  3. Funny how ‘the gun guy’ seems to not understand Dickey and what it actually says and means. I thought Mike ‘retired’? Is someone else writing his blog for him?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.