The Cautionary Instruction: Guns, research and politics

Friday, 03 May 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

20130502 gunresearch photocom86533162For all the attention that is placed on the nation’s estimated 300 million firearms, most guns rest in cases, drawers and safes. Few are holstered. Few get used to actually stop a threat. Even armed soldiers and police officers often go entire careers without firing a shot on duty, reported the St. Louis Dispatch.

For many, self-defense is the leading argument for gun ownership rights. It’s also the primary motivation for keeping a firearm, now surpassing even hunting, according to a recent Pew survey.

Data on the incidents of guns’ being used in self-defense vary widely from study to study. But only a tiny sliver of people use guns to kill someone engaged in a felony. The FBI counted just 230 such cases of justifiable homicide in 2010.

The U.S. Senate last week rejected a series of gun control proposals. The debate over gun control has been hampered by old, at times unreliable data on guns.

After the Newtown massacre, President Barack Obama issued 23 executive orders related to guns, gun violence and some would suggest gun control. Perhaps most notable among the president's actions was a memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

The battle over firearms has carried over to the type of research each side thinks is needed.

Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence recently told a committee of experts on guns and public health about the estimated 30,000 gun deaths and 70,000 gun injuries that occur annually. He also spoke of the need for better information, including precise breakdowns of how many of the weapons involved in shootings were obtained illegally.

The NRA’s John Frazer recommended conducting surveys of inmates to determine how they choose victims, and figuring out how many guns are obtained from private transactions. He urged the CDC to study the benefits of guns.

The president included $10 million for firearm research in his budget. But it is up to Congress to allocate the money.

While gun-rights organizations have fought a wide set of proposed firearms restrictions, they so far have expressed few concerns about the president's executive actions. Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, said the majority of the items appear inconsequential.

"Some of them basically don't do anything.…Many of them are nothing-burgers," he said. "Most are not harmful."

The “nothing-burgers” aside, public opinion appears to be on the administration's side. Fifty-five percent of Americans said in April's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that they support tougher gun laws -- roughly the same number who expressed a similar sentiment in the weeks following Newtown.

(Image: Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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