Sunday, November 13, 2011

Guns in homes: A triumph of ideology over science

An article on the website of the Arizona Republic today struck a deep note inside of me, not because it was a "once in a lifetime" story or because it was an "only in Arizona" story, but because variations of it are written almost every day all over the country.

From the Arizona Republic -

Surprise child injured by gun; possible accident
A 4-year-old boy in Surprise suffered facial injuries while apparently playing with a handgun Saturday morning, police said.

Police responded to a report of an injured child around 11 a.m., said Surprise police spokesman Sgt. Bert Anzini. When officers arrived, they found a 4-year-old boy with injuries to the face.
My initial response to the article was to glance at the headline, think to myself "ho hum" and start to move on to the next article.

In mid-click, I realized that was a disgustingly blase attitude towards something that brought harm to a child.

The thing is, it's not just me. Most of us are just as blase when it comes to gun "accidents." We are so used to reading and hearing about them, we just tune them out.

Unfortunately, that "tuning out" is an opening exploited by certain people and groups to enact policies that actually make the situation worse, leading to more incidents to be blase about.

Over the years, there have literally been scores of scientific studies documenting the fact that guns in homes tend to decrease, not increase, the safety of the occupants of such homes.  This has led to the practice of many physicians adding firearms safety questions and information to their discussions of risky behavior with their patients and their patients' families.

One such study was released earlier this year.  In it, the author, David Hemenway PhD of the Harvard School of Public Health, found that the presence of firearms in the home increased the likelihood of violent death or injury, especially to women, children, and seniors.

Most of the studies have found that, in spite of the claims of the NRA et. al., most firearms in homes are not used for self-defense when they are used.

Pro-gun lobbying organizations like the NRA have spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars attempting to refute the studies or at least undermine the credibility of the scientists involved.

When that has failed (as it usually does), they've resorted to simply trying to silence their critics and advocates for gun safety and knowledge.

In Florida, shortly after the release of the above study (a coincidence, I think), the legislature passed and the governor signed into law HB155, the rather innocuously titled Privacy of Firearms Owners bill (legislative analysis here).

The title of the bill was innocuous, but the text of the bill wasn't - it barred health care providers from asking about or talking to patients and their families about guns.

It was shepherded through the legislative process by the NRA and its proxies, who sent the "big gun" among its lobbyists, Marion Hammer, to personally and directly exercise her influence.

The measure has since been overturned by a federal judge who found, among other things, that the provisions of the measure violated doctors' free speech rights.

Note: After the court's ruling, HB4015 was filed in the Florida House of Representatives.  If passed into law, it would repeal the offending language of the earlier measure (bill summary page here).  It has been assigned to committee and awaits the start of the 2012 session of the Florida legislature for any action on it (in the news article linked to the word "filed", the sponsor of HB4015 indicates that he does not expect his bill to see any consideration, much less passage).

Expect more moves like this in more legislatures - when the facts (aka - the science) don't support their desired policies, the NRA et. al. pushes for policies that ignore the facts.

Still, it's not a total tragedy - the four year old child in the article cited at the beginning of this post apparently suffered only "non-life-threatening" injuries.

Unlike the victim here, from New Mexico...

Unlike the victim here, from Pennsylvania...

Unlike the victim here, from Virginia...

Unlike the victim here, from Georgia...

Unlike the victim here, from Indiana...

Unlike the victim here, from North Carolina...

Unlike the victim here, from Washington (state)...

Unlike the victim here, from Tennessee...

Unlike the victim here, from Alabama...

Unlike the victim here, from Michigan...

The list is long and will continue to grow longer so long as there are places that base public safety and public health policies on ideology rather than reality.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

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