Why JAMA Pediatrics gets it wrong on gun ownership

My kid carries.  He carries a 9mm. He also carries two different shotguns.  He carries them from the house to the car and then to the range. In cases. Unloaded. Under my direct and relentless supervision.

When we put them into or take them out of their cases, I have him talk me through everything he is doing and why it’s important. I pepper him with questions about how to handle firearms situations (such as he’s at a pal’s house, and the other kid suddenly produces a gun), and when he’s wrong, I deliver the correct answer with paternal love but also unmistakable clarity.

As a law abiding gun owner, conscientious parent, and public health professional (this is not the bizarre trichotomy that the media and the academy would have you believe it is), I accept that my son’s safety around our firearms is completely my responsibility. After we shoot, he quite capably reverses the process. Then the guns are locked away.

In a much ballyhooed study published last week in JAMA Pediatrics, Boston-based academics produced data establishing, they claim, an association between state regulation of adult gun ownership and the likelihood that a child (grade 9 to 12, based on the survey they relied upon) would carry. The flow of this argument is as follows: if you restrict adult gun ownership you will have fewer kids carrying and, thus, you will lower both suicide and homicide rates.

For the national “health” media, this argument is perfectly logical and so compelling that no one would ever question the premise, the data source, or the findings, so I’ll do their jobs for them. To wit:

The data source is the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, which questions 9th through 12th graders about potentially risky behaviors. According to the prestigious Advisory Board Company and the Wall Street Journal, 25% of patients lie to their doctors, often about personal behaviors or habits. If that’s true, what’s the likelihood that adolescents might lie to a government survey taker, with whom they have no relationship let alone one supposedly based on trust, about something that they think might make them look cool and tough?

Self-reported data is notoriously unreliable. In fact, one of the government’s most important health surveys, called NHANES, which relies almost completely on self-reported data, has been torn to shreds twice in recent years. NHANES data on exercise and calorie intake has been raked over the coals by major public health researchers, so much so that this past July the Mayo Clinic Proceedings concluded that  “[memory-based] data cannot be used to inform national dietary guidelines and that the continued funding of M-BMs (memory-based methods) constitutes an unscientific and major misuse of research resources.” In other words, 40 years of finger-wagging dietary advice from your federal government is worthless, based on self-reported garbage.

Can anyone prove that the self-reported carry data is any more reliable?

What’s the likelihood that kids who claimed to carry came from homes with a convicted criminal in them? What’s the likelihood that a kid who carries has a germinating criminal history or other behavioral problems? In other words, was there an association between the likelihood of carrying a firearm and engaging in other high-risk behaviors? These data are, after all, from a survey of risky health behaviors among young people. Wasn’t that other data handy?

Are kids carrying because their schools and other civic institutions are failing to protect them from bullying? Or, are they carrying because they’re involved in criminality themselves, such as gangs? If a kid is considering gang participation, I am guessing getting a gun will be the least of his obstacles to membership.

What’s the relationship between the likelihood of youth carry and illegal possession of the firearm by the adult in the household (e.g, theft or straw man purchase)?

How does the risk of kid carry vary with violent crime generally in a state? Of the 38 states for which they have data, the researchers report that California ranks number 1 in gun laws (see their Table 1 at the this link). However, it is only 31st in violent crime rate, with 1 being best and 51 being worst. The jurisdiction with some of the nation’s most onerous gun ownership requirements, our vaunted national capital, does not have a gun law score (could there be a rank higher than 1?), but it does rank at the bottom, as having the worst violent crime rate in the country. Conversely, New Hampshire’s gun laws rank as only 24th; but, it has the lowest violent crime rate of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Dare we say that local culture influences gun behaviors more than laws?

In how many of our states is gun safety taught in schools? We teach driving safety, safe sex, and abstention from drugs and alcohol. It doesn’t matter whether you will ever own a gun or whether you lack even a beginner’s grasp of the Second Amendment. One day, your kid may be in the presence of someone who thinks that toying with a firearm is fun and games; how will your kid handle that? I know my kid knows what to do. What’s the relationship between kid carry and firearms education in the schools?

What about the nature of the homes these kids come from? Intact, two-parent households? Domestic violence rates? Sexual assault rates? Alcoholism and drug abuse rates? Mental illness rates? Anger control problems? Parental educational attainment? I can think of a lot of things that might influence a kid to carry and none of them have to do with restrictive state gun ownership laws.

Isn’t the bottom line here parenting and role modeling, not state intervention? The overriding factors in predicting a child’s lifelong success are his or her parents. Your child will, more often than not, reflect your values, your belief system, and your habits.

Like all progressive data masquerading as wisdom, this paper and the mewling commentary in the media, ignores essential facts: violent crime in the U.S. is in freefall, for reasons that no one can state with any certainty. I was most amused by a comment on the study from Bindu Kalesan, an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She says the study’s import is that it is, “basically saying, adult gun ownership is the real problem.” Not really, because the overwhelming number of gun owners abide by their community’s laws and harm no one with their firearms. The problem is ownership of a firearm by negligent adults who don’t get the weight of this responsibility. And we cannot fix personal stupidity by statute.

One way to dry up the well of this kind of data drivel is tell your kids not to answer government surveys. Take responsibility and engage with your kids about all kinds of health behaviors. Teach your kids about the cherished right embodied in the Constitution, and, even more important, the natural law that is the right of self defense. Teach your kid to be the responsible gun owner that the academy believes he or she cannot be. If we don’t do this, the academy, the media, and the government will happily try to fill what they perceive to be a behavioral vacuum. Don’t give them the chance.

Vik Khanna, a Guns.com contributor, is the author of Your Personal Affordable Care Act: How to Avoid Obamacare, and a healthcare consultant and gun owner in St. Louis, MO.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.

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