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Do Guns Protect Us?

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Over lunch recently, a friend told about taking a firearm course, which enabled her to carry a concealed pistol and thus, she presumed, to live at less risk of harm.


Isn’t it obvious: If more of us have guns, and if gun-toting criminals therefore fear our having a gun, then they will be less likely to rob or attack us? The NRA likes to remind us that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”


But two new Science reports indicate quite the opposite.


It’s no secret, as Stanford researchers Philip Cook and John Donohue report, that some 36,000 Americans a year die of gunshot, and that the U.S. gun suicide rate is eight times that of other high-income countries, and the gun-murder rate is 25 times higher. More newsworthy is their reporting an “emerging consensus,” using sophisticated statistical analyses, that right-to-carry laws “substantially increase violent crime.”


For example, from 1977 to 2014, U.S. violent crime rates fell by 4.3 percent in states that adopted right-to-carry laws, but by a whopping 42.3 percent in states that did not adopt such laws. In tense situations, from car accidents to barroom and domestic arguments, guns enable deadly responses. Anecdotes of private guns deterring violence are offset by many more incidents of innocent deaths.


In the second report, economists Phillip Levine and Robin McKnight studied firearm sales after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 20 children and six adults. They associated a spike in firearm sales after the massacre with a corresponding spike in firearm deaths—in the very places where firearm sales had significantly increased. “We find that an additional 60 deaths overall, including 20 children, resulted from unintentional shootings in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.”


These new findings confirm what other evidence tells us: Guns purchased for safety make us less safe.

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Mr. Meyers, 

I would encourage you to remember your pledge. Share truth, Honor Truth, Encourage Truth. 

The sources you cited link to two abbreviated summaries, whose full articles are locked behind paywalls (at $30 an article) preventing others from easily verifying your information. Further, the Science articles are themselves a summary of a 108 page study conducted by Donohue, Zheng and Aneja ( ) in a 3 page article , and the information in Levine and McKnight's  research methodology is called into question by other experts even within the same article (Accidental gun killings surged after Sandy Hook school shooting | Science | AAAS ). It is unfair to believe that a 3 page article is sufficient to summarize a study of this size for the former, and similarly unfair to present the Wellesly findings as undisputed fact without presenting the counter arguments of its critics.

Balance the Truth. The way in which you present your statistic of '36,000 Americans a year die of gunshot' is factually accurate, but misleading. You have sandwiched that number between a comment on being assaulted and robbed, and a comment on violent crime which implies those 36,000 deaths are the result, while neglecting to mention that 61% of those deaths are suicides.

Clarify the Truth. The assertion of violent crime rates in right to carry states vs not is not a concrete value. Rather, this is information that Donohue, Zheng and Aneja have speculated in their study by utilizing a methodology for creating a dummy variable regression spline that adjusts crime rates based on assumed impact of the prevalence of cocaine use and cocaine related crime of their respective communities would have had in RTC states in order to achieve the purported violence rates. Their methodology is not without criticism from other experts. 

Defer. Your own statement "Anecdotes of private guns deterring violence are offset by many more incidents of innocent deaths." is contradicted by the expert panels conducting the study released by the CDC:

“Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year … in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008,” (Front Matter | Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence | The Nation...

Finally "These new findings confirm what other evidence tells us: Guns purchased for safety make us less safe."

This statement purports an absolute regarding a topic upon which decades of experts and millions of dollars in research have been unable to reach a consensus. Legislature championed and implemented by gun-control activists or gun rights activists, according to the CDC, have both been found to have negligible, or inconclusive impacts on gun violence. 

Can you accurately characterize your post as adhering to the Pro-Truth Pledge? 

About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see