Shots in the Dark

Gun control's shaky foundation


You might think it's big news when a panel of experts appointed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), usually a gun control booster, concludes there's no good evidence that legal restrictions on firearms do what they're supposed to do. Yet The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have given generous coverage to CDC-funded studies with results favoring gun control, both allotted the story fewer than 200 easily missed words.

In what it described as "a systematic review of scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of firearms laws," the CDC panel considered 51 published studies examining seven different kinds of laws, including restrictions on who may own a firearm, waiting periods for gun purchases, and bans on specific firearms (such as "assault weapons" and "Saturday night specials"). They "found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws."

The report (available at www.cdc.gov) cites a variety of methodological problems, including inadequate comparisons and the failure to control for confounding variables. The reviewers' most consistent finding was inconsistent findings: Sometimes gun control is associated with reduced violence, and sometimes it's associated with increased violence. "In conclusion," they say, "the application of imperfect methods to imperfect data has commonly resulted in inconsistent and otherwise insufficient evidence with which to determine the effectiveness of firearms laws."

The reviewers called for more and better research, cautioning that "insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness should not be interpreted as evidence of ineffectiveness." Yet the federal government has been restricting guns for nearly 70 years, states and localities even longer. The benefits must be subtle to have escaped detection all these years.