President Obama’s “Concealed-Carry” Approach to Firearms Research

by Whitney Pitcher

Late business professor Aaron Levenstein once said, “statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital”. He is right, and President Obama’s “executive actions” are a great example of this.

As part of his cache of executive actions, President Obama issued “a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence”. The press secretary’s release elaborating on this action states:

But for years, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)and other scientific agencies have been barred by Congress from using funds to“advocate or promote gun control,” and some members of Congress have claimed this prohibition also bans the CDC from conducting any research on the causes of gun violence. However, research on gun violence is not advocacy; it is critical public health research that gives all Americans information they need.

President Obama bemoans the supposedly unclear language barring funding of research that would advocate for gun control, but President Obama signed the most recent consolidated appropriations act which had the language he criticized. Additionally, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice and its research arm the National Institute for Justice (NIJ) has not funded a “single public study on firearms” during his presidency (and that’s according to a report by his gun control comrade in arms, Michael Bloomberg, who would likely would have gone out of his way to show deference to the President on this matter). Meanwhile, a quick cursory search found that under President Bush, NIJ funded at least one study on ballistics analysis in crime and one on smart gun technology. If these issues are so important to the president, why did he sign a bill with murky language? Why did his Justice Department not fund studies on firearms?

Additionally, the President decries the lack of “critical public health research” being performed while at the same time using suspect and uncited non-federally  funded research in his press release. President Obama notes that “40% of guns are purchased without a background check”. However, as Breitbart’s AWR Hawkins notes, the source of that statistic is a study done by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the 40% on refers to guns already in circulation, not new guns. In his remarks, President Obama fails to indicate the source of his numbers. Additionally, John Fund at the National Review notes that what Bloomberg references is a small survey done during the Clinton administration nearly 20 years ago . Much of the self reported survey (surveys that  intrinsically have social desirability bias) was performed prior to the passage of the Brady Act requiring federal background checks. Like Levenstein suggests, President Obama’s gun statistics are revealing of his agenda they suggest, but what he conceals is vital.

If President Obama Department of Justice can’t even fund the research that President Bush funded and if his staffers have to resort to statistics that are old enough to vote, what can be said about the research he wants to actually fund now? I think it can say what University of Illinois sociologist David Bordura and epidemiologist David Cowan said when the CDC had funded studies last during the mid 1990s (emphasis added):

In a presentation at the American Society of Criminology’s 1994 meeting, for example, University of Illinois sociologist David Bordua and epidemiologist David Cowan called the public health literature on guns “advocacy based on political beliefs rather than scientific fact.” Bordua and Cowan noted that The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, the main outlets for CDC-funded studies of firearms, are consistent supporters of strict gun control. They found that “reports with findings not supporting the position of the journal are rarely cited,” “little is cited from the criminological or sociological field,” and the articles that are cited “are almost always by medical or public health researchers.”

For more, please see Jacob Sullum’s piece at Reason about the problems with publicly funded firearms research and the subsequent bias often found in the journals that publish such research. Suffice it to say, this latest proposal by President Obama appears to be nothing more than his version of conceal-carry–conceal the truth, and carry the misrepresentations.

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