Article in full:

https://www.mja.com.au/system/files/issues/204_10/10.5694mja16.00293.pdf

Any literature review of anti-gun publications, especially opinion pieces laden with throw away figures and singular data points, is always difficult. They aren’t difficult because they’re hard to refute or review, but because I never know where to start.

The relationship between psychosis or serious mental illness is well researched, and the findings are clear. Mentally ill individuals are at greater risk of both perpetrating and being the target of violence, however, they account for a small percentage of overall violence. How this relates to the gun control debate is a difficult and complex issue that bears close examination and candid discussion.

I find it objectionable, almost negligent, on the part of The Medical Journal of Australia to publish what is essentially an opinion piece masquerading as serious research. Never mind that the most recent Chapman et al. paper offers a more well rounded, and objective overview of the relative efficacy of the NFA in reducing firearms homicide and suicide, the paper in question refutes key arguments put forth by Dudley et al., in their MJA op ed. I adamantly refuse to accept this as a peer reviewed journal article, for the simple fact that it is self contradictory, sensationalised, poorly referenced, and obviously cherry picks singular data points, to force the data to fit the theory.

Lets start with the poorly interpreted statistical data regarding the significant link between mental illness and community violence. The risk of violence is higher for individuals suffering mental illnesses across the board, and mentally ill individuals are especially at risk of being the victim of violence. Rather than regurgitate the PAR (Population-Attributable Risk) percentages, I want to focus on the interpretation of this data. Despite knowing the figures regarding perpetration and victimisation rates, Dudley et al. inexplicably provide us with the numbers, state that 95% of gun homicides are perpetrated by individuals without mental illnesses, and then segue into making statements regarding the correlation between gun availability in the US and an increase in firearm homicide.

Hang on, back up a little. The editorial referenced for the 95% statement actually cites a study by Fazel and Grann, and is based on Swedish, not US data. The exact quote from the editorial is: “the authors find that persons with psychosis are about four times more likely than the general population to be convicted of a violent crime but that psychotic group accounts for just 5% of such offenses.” The editorial referenced by Dudley et al. doesn’t state that 95% of gun homicides are perpetrated by people without psychosis. It states that 5% of violent crime is perpetrated by psychotic individuals. The devil is in the details, and the details reveal Dudley et al., are making false statements.

Coming back to the claimed relative increase in gun homicide as gun ownership rate increases – the jury is still out on that one. There is no conclusive meta-data analysis that can show positive causation between increased gun ownership and increased gun homicide. The raw data does not support this supposition. Furthermore, one of the more comprehensive and objective reviews on gun ownership and gun crime/homicide, published by the Pew Research Centre, shows that gun homicide is at an all time low in the US, a full 49% reduction from the 1993 peak in gun violence. So much for the anti-gun lobby flights of fancy, where the streets of Texas have hourly re-enactments of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

The authors’ focus on mental illness and mass shootings is distinctly myopic, a quality that characterises much of the anti-gun literature. Gun control advocates refuse to recognise that mass shootings account for, on average, a measly 0.03-0.04% of gun homicides in the US (using CDC and FBI data), or focus on the larger issue of gun violence among social groups at risk. For example, in the US, blacks account for between 53-55% of gun homicide victims, despite accounting for only 13% of the total population. We see once again that the anti-gun lobby isn’t very interested in addressing the big problems that gives the greatest cause for concern, but are focused on sensationalising specific, singular data points, to drum up support for their agendas. Where is the discussion on the disproportionate victimisation rates of blacks and Hispanics? Where is the discussion on possible correlations between socio-economically at-risk groups and disproportionate victimisation rates?

So 20 years later, what are the lessons to be learned from the implementation of the NFA?

Well, depending on who you ask, either the NFA worked, or it didn’t.

Interestingly, those who claim it did relied on statistical modelling that favoured their hypothesis, in order to make their claims. Or worse yet, conclusions drawn by anti-gun publications contradict the statistical evidenceMore objective approaches conclude that the NFA did SFA. More importantly, even rabidly anti-gun scholars like Chapman have had to about face on their previous claims, as evidenced in their latest research publications.

So that brings us back to this opinion piece published by MJA. What a shame, that an Australian medical journal would publish such tripe, and even put a little provenance disclaimer in the fine print, claiming the piece was externally peer reviewed. I don’t know of any sociologist who values their professionalism, who would allow such a poorly researched opinion piece pass peer review.

Perhaps most vexing is the fact that the authors have no issue making projections, for instance, claiming that persons with possible mental illnesses, interpersonal and personality issues, having easy, legal access to guns is lethal, resulting in avoidable excesses of both domestic and mass killings. Hold on, a few paragraphs ago the authors claimed that “95%” of gun homicides were perpetrated by perfectly sane people. So which is it? Mentally ill people having access to guns will create unavoidable excesses in domestic and mass killings, or mentally ill people play a very small role in gun homicides in general? You can’t have it both ways. And then there is the hypocritical about face, claiming that pro-gun proponents discussing the availability of guns to mentally ill people, is a calculated appeal to prejudice. This whole opinion piece is quite literally, a dog’s breakfast.

Red herrings and false equivalences are no match for empirical knowledge. I haven’t even really started to do a proper literature review on this latest publication, and I feel it is unnecessary. It is patently obvious that the article makes use of singular data points to peddle an agenda. Moreover, referencing several flawed studies (Chapman et al., 2006 and Leigh and Neill, 2010) as evidence only goes to show that there is a distinct lack of academic credibility within the anti-gun academic circle. The crux of the matter at hand is that the latest opinion piece written by our friends in the gun control lobby is simply pure opinion flimsily supported by a façade of factual evidence.

Knowledge is power.

JC