Guns, Health, and Relative Risks

I am not a health scholar, but I cannot help but think about the issue of guns in connection with various health outcomes. In particular I think alot about assessing risk in the decision to carry a gun, notably what I call gun culture’s version of Pascal’s Wager: “It’s better to have a gun and not need it, than to need a gun and not have it.”

I also think about the relative risks of living life in the world. For example, when a UCLA professor was killed by a disgruntled student last year, I thought about whether I should be afraid to go to work. After the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, I thought about how safe I would be traveling to Washington, DC for a conference presentation the following week.

In the post about Paris and DC, I wrote about how I was more likely to die in a car crash driving to DC than to be a victim of a terrorist attack, more likely to die from the saturated fats I would consume while there, more likely to die from the work-related stress of preparing for my presentation, and more likely to die from the exercise I wouldn’t get because of the conference.

I put this personal perspective in the broader context of risk factors for death in the UK, because that was the best graphic I could find. I asserted the UK data on relative death risks were similar to the United States, but I am happy that I can now share a graphic based on data from the United States, which supports my earlier claim.

Source: Graphical Representation Blog (

North Carolina is rich with gun-related “new media,” including Graphical Representation, which highlights the truth of the old saw that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Check it out for yourself.


  1. You and your friend Jonathan can debunk gun control arguments with graphics all you want, but if you were serious about engaging in real discussions about guns rather than promoting the latest and greatest NRA marketing scheme, you or he would take the trouble to look up how much money is spent on medical research for the leading health killers such as heart disease, etc., and if you graphed it alongside how much is spent on ‘gun control’ research the graphic would look exactly like the one you post above; if anything the dot representing gun medical research would be smaller. Which is why the comment on his blog – “I would suggest that their time is better spent focusing on the other diseases and afflictions in which they are subject matter experts, rather than sticking their noses into topics they know very little about, especially since some of those diseases individually account for an order of magnitude more deaths than people misusing firearms.”- is about as honest and intellectually substantive as the comments you post on your blog.

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    • You are assuming your premise, that epidemiological methods are both useful and appropriate methods to study, and find solutions to mitigate, what is primarily criminal activity involving firearms. You have to prove, or at least reasonably argue, that point first, before you can then argue that, of all the extant methods of studying criminal activity, those methods should be given priority for the limited government resources available.

      Fatal accident rates are, however horrible, objectively statistical noise and decreasing to boot. Suicide, also always a tragedy, by all methods, is a relatively well-studied topic and there is, from my limited study of the massive amount of available research (and application of simple logic and experience), little to suggest any existing or proposed “gun control” measure can have any effect on those rates in any meaningful way. The two subjects appear to be almost orthogonal to any possible legislative solutions.

      But, in any event, as the person claiming there is a need for a given action, particularly one involving the expenditure of public moneys and potential interference with multiple different fundamental individual rights and privileges, the burden is on you to at least defend your premise before jumping right into the main argument.

      Liked by 2 people

      • First, there is very little substantive research on the ‘substitution effect’ on gun suicide; i.e., whether suicide rates would change if 50% of the people who commit suicide using a gun couldn’t use a gun. As for criminality, our violent crime rate (homicide, rape, aggravated assault) is the same as rates in most advanced countries, but our homicide rate is 10 to 20 higher; it is assumed that this is because other advanced countries control gun ownership, particularly handgun ownership. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. And finally, the research on ‘risk’ versus ‘benefit’ of gun possession is also less than perfect and reflects a lack of detailed studies.

        Second, epidemiological studies on injury often involve criminality, for example, studies of violent behavior without using the type of weapon as a control. Funny, but nobody seems to object to such studies unless it involves guns. Then all of a sudden public health researchers are told to mind their own business.

        Third, I don’t understand the application of ‘simple logic and experience’ as a research method. Either we agree to develop evidence-based information or we don’t. Logic and experience is nothing more than anecdote.

        Finally, how does research ‘interfere with multiple different fundamental individual rights?’ Yes, if a public policy is enacted which threatens rights, then the policy should be reviewed and if found objectionable, thrown out. But what does that have to do with research?


      • Mike,

        Little substantive research on substitution effect, but zero evidence that stricter firearm controls correspond with overall lower suicide rates in any of the typically-compared countries. Focusing on the method rather than the individual actor is a huge problem with most public health research on firearms. The researchers simply don’t understand the fundamentals of the topic they are researching and start out with bad premises. Most being unwilling (based on their citations) to actually look at the extant reams of data and research outside their field, acting instead as if they are the first to tread the ground.

        As noted by a simple practical analysis. The vast majority of firearms suicides are committed by middle-aged, non-prohibited, male gun owners, the lesser large number by adult, non-prohibited, females. Given that, what -exact- extant or proposed gun control legislation could in practice effect those who already legally own the gun and are the responsible party as far as any “safe storage” law covers? Since a single shot is all that is required, a colonial-era musket being exactly as useful as a modern semi-automatic handgun for the purpose, no general handgun restriction, action type restriction, nor magazine restriction could realistically have any impact for a determined suicide either. Requiring storage in a centralized location could have little effect, as most suicides who are determined to commit suicide, versus “cry for help,” appear to give little warning and often planned far ahead to use the most effective means available.

        That being, in fact, a fundamental problem with all studies of suicide. The available sample set for interview are those who were either not sincere about their attempt (or they would have chosen a sure method with no chance of interruption) or were incompetent, choosing an unreliable method or interruptible location. There is a lot of baseline work needed in studies of suicide before we start looking at substitution effects vis-a-vis guns.

        As for “it is assumed that the lower levels of homicide are caused by strict firearms regulations,” that analysis is laughably, and obviously false if one looks, again, at the extant data. It is only “assumed” by people ignorant of both history and extant research.

        A look at the homicide rates of those countries -prior- to their restrictive gun control laws (which in European-heritage, developed nations are almost uniformly an artifact of post-WWI fears of anarchists, socialists, and minorities) will show essentially zero statistically-significant changes in rates and rate trends post enactment. That stays true across the board even as the restrictions were ramped up in severity. There is essentially no correlation, much less anything approaching a causal link, to be found. Astonishingly, the actual experts (not doctors) in the fields of economics, sociology, and criminology have already come up with a pretty sound theory on why that is, and it has nothing to do with lack of gun restrictions but rather demographic and cultural, and sub-cultural, differences. But, again, the public health researchers appear to be either incompetently, or mendaciously, ignorant of the extant evidence.

        As for the “problem” with research, that goes to why CDC funding for research aimed to promote gun control was restricted. Because almost all of it was, most started with the premise that “gun violence” was a public health method that needed to be treated like smoking, sound science be damned. Then and now public health researchers talk about “gun violence,” not “violence.” “Gun crime,” not crime. Even when they do solid research, as the recent study in Wilmington on networks of violence, they prove unable to let go of their bete noire, ignore the thrust of their findings, and have to insert unfounded statements about “additional gun restrictions.” The Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership blog has a good history of what’s wrong, then and now, with most public health research.


    • Likewise, Mike’s entire comment is based on a false premise. The fact remains that there are doctors who are wasting their time – and everyone else’s – on a topic that is wholly unrelated to their expertise; even the AMA has jumped on this bandwagon of idiocy.

      How much time/money they are wasting is entirely secondary to the fact that they are wasting it, and that their time could be better spent.

      (Also, as an aside, Mike’s conflation of “‘gun control’ research” and “gun medical research” – whatever that might be – rather undermines his whining about “honesty” and such.)


  2. This post reminded me of Daniel Gardner’s ‘The Science of Fear’ with the subtitle ‘Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn’t and Put Ourselves in Grater Danger’. The title makes me think about negligent discharges since the gun guy PC says they aren’t accidents anymore. They don’t happen when one is not carrying or cleaning or handling a gun..


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