The Experts Weigh In on Gun Violence

Harvard’s David Hemenway, arguably the nation’s foremost expert on gun violence had a problem. The press often asked him for his opinion on gun violence issues and after he gave it he found they sought an opposite opinion. He felt that his was the majority opinion, but it was not treated that way. He was told that journalists would only treat his studies as conclusive when the literature showed a preponderance of opinion on one side. So he set out to survey his colleagues to see whether he could show that excess guns and lax laws were behind our marked excess in gun violence compared to other industrialized countries. This is what he found.

” I decided to determine objectively, through polling, whether there was scientific consensus on firearms. What I found won’t please the National Rifle Assn. 

My first step was to put together a list of relevant scientists. I decided that to qualify for the survey the researcher should have published on firearms in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and that he or she should be an active scientist — someone who had published an article in the last four years. I was interested in social science and policy issues, so I wanted the articles to be directly relevant. I was not interested in scientists doing research in forensics, history, medical treatment, psychiatric issues, engineering or non-firearms (for example, nail guns, electron guns).”

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A 2014 meta-analysis, conducted by researchers at UC San Francisco, of the scientific studies on guns and suicide concluded that access to firearms increases the risk of suicide. Similarly, the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention from the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that “firearm access is a risk factor for suicide in the United States.”

Of course it’s possible to find researchers who side with the NRA in believing that guns make our society safer, rather than more dangerous. As I’ve shown, however, they’re in the minority.

Scientific consensus isn’t always right, but it’s our best guide to understanding the world. Can reporters please stop pretending that scientists, like politicians, are evenly divided on guns? We’re not.”

David Hemenway is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

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