Researchers cry foul on study claim that new laws could drop gun deaths 90 percent

A study released in the UK led by a Boston University researcher claims three new laws could almost eliminate deaths from guns, though peers are not convinced.

The study on firearm mortality, published last week through the Lancet health journal, was led by epidemiologist Bindu Kalesan of Boston University’s Department of Medicine and School of Public Health and compiled in conjunction with Dr. Sandro Galea, also from BU; two other researchers from Columbia University and a Swiss epidemiologist.

Kalesan’s group looked at 25 new gun laws implemented across the nation during 2009, then compared them against firearms deaths indexed by the Centers for Disease Control in the affected areas over a six-month period in 2014-15, looking for potential impacts. From this, the researchers concluded most of the new regulations were ineffective or inconclusive.

However, the study found the three that best reduced overall firearm mortality were universal background checks, background checks on ammo sales and identification requirements for guns such as microstamping. Implementing and enforcing all three of these on a nationwide level, contends the study, would drop gun deaths from 10.35 per 100,000 people to 0.16 per 100,000.

“These findings underscore the importance of relevant and effective gun laws and particularly the impact of national level implementation of background checks to reduce gun deaths,” said Kalesan (audio) arguing that that universal background checks alone would drop gun deaths by 57 percent.

The study’s findings were reported largely at face value both domestically and internationally in media outlets ranging from the Huffington Post, to CNN the Japan Times and the Daily Mail.

The problem is, a number of well-respected gun mortality researchers not connected to the effort just aren’t buying it.

“Briefly, this is not a credible study and no cause and effect inferences should be made from it,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy & Research, told the Washington Post.

Webster went on to tell the UK’s Guardian, “You have to do some really bizarre mental gymnastics to explain what they’re seeing here.”

David Hemenway, a professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained the laws cited by Kalesan’s group aren’t that strong and the predicted impact of dropping gun deaths by 90 percent is wildly optimistic.

“I would just be flabbergasted; I’d bet the house if you did [implement] these laws, if you had these three laws and enforced them really well and reduced gun deaths by 10 percent, you’d be ecstatic,” said Hemenway.

A third researcher, James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, argued that in other countries that have adopted harsh gun control schemes, which included massive buybacks and destruction of privately owned firearms, such dramatic declines in firearms deaths were not observed.

“Look at countries with very strict gun laws and low homicide rates, such as Australia,” Fox told the Christian Science Monitor, “and if we reduce our gun deaths by 90 percent, we might even get lower than them, and that’s not realistic because there are other reasons for our high homicide rates, aside from guns.”

Kalesan, defending her group’s study to the Guardian, arguing in turn that gun mortality research is complex but, “what we’ve offered is a strong direction that we can go in.”

The National Rifle Association weighed in on the controversy over the Lancet study on Friday, holding it up as a reason why the Second Amendment group has long fought against public funds for such research.

“This bout of public infighting and candid admissions as to the credibility of the entire field of gun violence research should give the public and policymakers pause when presented with studies supporting further gun restrictions,” said the group in a statement. “Further, this episode provides important evidence as to why NRA works with federal lawmakers to ensure that this type of shoddy and politically motivated research is not federally funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is bad enough that such defective anti-gun research finds its way into distinguished publications, without forcing the taxpayer to foot the bill.”