Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Washington Post Columnist
Misfires Over Gun Safety

In a column that appeared in last Sunday’s Washington Post, Arthur Kellermann blasts Justice Antonin Scalia’s assertion that keeping a handgun will protect the homeowner from burglars.

In the Justice’s opinion in the recent Supreme Court’s decision that the Washington, D.C., gun ban was unconstitutional, he wrote that a handgun can “… be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police.”

Kellermann, a professor of emergency medicine and public health at Emory University in Atlanta, offered the following in his column: That owning a gun is not a good deterrent to criminals, there are few cases that guns are used in self defense, that guns are used to commit suicide, and that Scalia’s scenario of holding a gun in one hand and using the other to call the police is “ludicrous.”

But let’s take these one at a time. Kellermann maintains that in a study that he conducted more than 20 years ago shows that more people actually shoot themselves or their loved ones than the actual criminal in the Seattle area. Thus, he maintains, “… that the risks of keeping a loaded gun in the home strongly outweigh the potential benefits.”

However, in the 1995 article, “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun,” by Gary Kleck, Ph.D., from the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, showed that “about 1.5 to 1.9 million” cases of people defending themselves from criminals by using their handguns. That doesn’t sound like a few cases of self defense. In fact, that sounds like a lot of potential benefits.

While Kleck’s critics say that his numbers are too high compared to other studies, he maintains that some of those studies do not include people who used a gun as a deterrent and not firing it, among other things. Kleck also mentions in his article that other studies that show much fewer cases of people defending themselves with firearms are only low because of poor-questioning and fact-finding methods.

But Kleck is not the only one with criticisms in his studies. In a 1997 Reason Magazine article, it alleges that Kellermann is guilty of excluding critical information in his anti-gun studies, such as in one study, Kellermann, according to the article, left out incidents where guns actually deterred criminals. The article also claims that Kellermann is also guilty of misusing other people’s studies to support his biased views and that he refuses to give his full data to back up his studies. The magazine is not the only publication that question’s Kellermann’s objectiveness.

In an article in a 1995 issue of Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Daniel D. Polsby mirrored Reason Magazine’s allegations that Kellermann does not provide data of his studies for review. Polsby is the Dean and Foundation Professor of Law at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.

And while Kellermann maintains that there are few cases of guns used in self defense, if one goes to the blogs Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog and Gun Watch, one will find nearly daily updated news stories of citizens using their guns to protect themselves and others. Obviously, these news articles and blogs are not peer-reviewed cases, but they are hard to ignore and certainly puts a sizable bullet hole in the notion that very few people use their firearms for protection.

Kellermann states that many people use guns to commit suicide. Sadly, the reality is if someone who is truly unhappy with his or her life, that person will find anyway to end it.

In Japan, where the country has a strict gun ban, many people are committing suicide by using the latest popular method of mixing common household cleaners and breathing in the fumes.

The sad truth is people will find any means to end their life. Going after the cause of a person's suicide and treating it is far more productive than demonizing one particular method used to commit suicide.

Finally, we come to Kellermann’s attack on Justice Scalia’s scenario.

“Scalia’s ludicrous vision of a little old lady clutching a handgun in one hand while dialing 911 with the other (try it sometime) doesn’t fit the facts,” Kellermann wrote.

However, that’s exactly what happened to 80-year-old Phyllis Friesen, as reported by the Ravalli Republic.

One evening, Friesen, of Sula, Mont., woke up to a man ransacking her cabin, where she lives alone. When she asked the man what he was doing, he didn’t answer and continued with his destruction. That’s when Friesen went into her bedroom and pulled out her .357 pistol and dialed 911.

“It wasn’t as frightening as it would have been if I didn’t have the gun,” she told the Ravalli Republic.

The police came and took the intruder away. But according to Kellermann, even though this case clearly illustrates Scalia’s scenario, he would call this ludicrous.

Now the reality is people will misuse guns, either intentionally or unintentionally. Accidents will happen. And another truth is that criminals break laws. If they didn’t, we would not call them lawbreakers.

Yet Kellermann maintains that owning a gun is a public health risk. But for more than 30 years, Washington, D.C., had a gun ban which resulted in very high crimes and deaths by criminals who still got their hands on guns.

However, it’s not a public health risk for an honest citizen to own a gun to defend one’s self, but it is a public health risk to create laws that benefit the criminals more than the people. To think otherwise would be ludicrous.