By Alan Korwin, Author
The Arizona Gun Owner's Guide
Gun Laws of America
An ASU psych professor and his young son counted some newspaper stories
on gun use, and from this concluded that guns are rarely used in self
defense. The results of this "research" appeared on the
front page of "The Tribune" (Arizona) and has been published
in the Canadian journal "Injury Prevention." See my first
Phoenix, Ariz., 5/8/04
The Fabricius-and-son published report found seven gunshot suicides
in Maricopa County during the period they studied in 1998. These were
among the 81 gunshot anecdotes they found for their test sample, by
clipping newspaper articles.
In 1998 however, according to the Arizona Dept. of Health Services,
Arizona had 570 gunshot suicides (491 men, 79 women).
If these were evenly distributed statewide, then 456 occurred in the
area the father-and-son studied that year. Their study period was
only 28% of a year (103 days), so if you do the math they should have
found about 161 suicides, not 7. If their methodology (counting newspaper
stories to measure gunshot activity) is valid.
But their methodology isn't valid. It is nonsense. That's beef number
one. Arizona State University should know better than to support such
poppycock by one of its own. Does ASU really stand behind this as
legitimate science? We need to know. Everyone paying tuition for a
supposedly sound education needs to know. Seems to me that ASU should
When the Tribune accurately printed this nonsense on its front page,
it was still nonsense. That's beef number two. The paper, to be valid,
credible, worthwhile, useful, shouldn't put nonsense on page one.
The newspaper's refusal so far to retract the story, or to make corrections,
is based on their claim that they accurately reported the nonsense.
By that guideline however, and I'm taking this directly from an email
sent to me, by noted columnist and friend Vin Suprynowicz:
If newspapers really MEANT this, then they'd frequently be running
(thoroughly attributed) stories headlined: "Local man says sodomites
corrupt normal youths; spread AIDS by using municipal pools,"
"Local study group concludes Negroes can't really learn higher
mathematics," "Study shows rounding up illegal aliens, shooting
them, and dumping them in mass graves would be effective method of
immigration control," "Large number of local residents think
America was a better place when women were not allowed to vote; work
outside the home," and "Jews wield disproportionate influence
It's certainly true that large numbers of people hold these views.
(And the "dumping in mass graves" approach arguably WOULD
be "effective," which is not to say I'm recommending it.)
Furthermore, given the opportunity, I'm sure the folks who hold these
views would be glad to compile official-looking "studies"
and "surveys" and see their conclusions reported on the
So why do reputable daily newspapers run no such stories?
Because they're bad, wrong, ridiculous, etc.
Yet when your father-and-son team say something equally wrong and
hateful, AS LONG AS IT'S SOMETHING THAT AGREES WITH THE NEWSPAPER
STAFF'S PRE-EXISTING PREJUDICES, then we get the "We're not here
to judge what people say, we're just here to report it ..." line.
After all, they wouldn't be ENDORSING those views, since the story
would be fully ATTRIBUTED ... right? -- V.S.
The Bottom Line
If the Fabricius method is off by as much as this single suicide indicator
shows, then their findings are 23 TIMES too low. The two DGUs their
study found would represent 46 lives saved. Total gunshot events could
have been as high as 1,863, not 81. But it gets worse.
Suicide is only one gauge. Several other factors suggest similar errors
-- not just incrementally but by orders of magnitude. For example,
in Lott's study of the "New York Times" for 2001, he found
they ran 50,745 words connecting guns with crime, but only a single
163-word story of a gun used to stop a crime (by an off-duty officer).
In "USA Today" it was 5,660 to zero. If those oddly disparate
word counts represent, as Lott concludes, hard bias in the selection
of gun stories by a paper as great as the Gray Lady, you have to wonder
what sort of error factor might apply to a paper out here in the desert.
Actually, this happily suggests that the "Tribune" is a
little better than papers back East. If the Fabricius team had, by
dumb luck, chosen to study "USA Today" instead of a hometown
rag, their methodology would lead to the conclusion that not one DGU
occurred in the entire country for the entire year! They said in their
report, "The newspaper in effect represented a daily survey of
several million people for cases of DGU." It just isn't so.
I'm being nice about it but it seems pretty clear, in my humble opinion,
that this is totally bogus "research," classic junk science
that violates every tenet of real research, and that the "Tribune"
and "Injury Prevention" that ran it were scammed by the
agenda-driven anti-gun-rights bigotry that produced this trash.
Well, I guess the publications were not scammed -- if they were complicit.
I can't tell for sure which it is. Yet. A correction would go a long
way toward setting things right. If ever a case deserved one it's
this. Wouldn't matter if it took them a while (though sooner is better),
but it is due.And there's more
Although the team only found 81 gunshot reports in the newspaper,
how many gunshot reports did the police take in the same period of
time? We know from research on Shannon's Law (concerns making a racket
with "celebratory" gunfire) that it is in the thousands
-- in some precincts alone. How many of these are reckless, and how
many really mean business (i.e., Defensive Gun Uses)?
And what's with this unusual set of dates? They tallied gun deaths
reported in the paper from April 1 to August 9, but they omitted June
1 to 16, and Jun 19 to 30, as they put it, "for convenience."
Both journal editor Pless and Assoc. Prof. Fabricius say the exercise
gained value because the authors also added information from law enforcement
and the courts. (They imply in their title they got additional cases
from police and court sources, but that's incorrect. And actually
would have been a step in the right direction, plus a lot more hard
They simply needed more detail to make a determination about a given
story's outcome, and followed up on the final disposition of the newspaper
clippings they used. In two out of three cases even this isn't so,
according to the report.
In one out of three cases however, the authors say Fabricius called
authorities of many types and represented himself as "a researcher
from Arizona State University studying gun use," and established
rapport. When an employee represents himself that way, trading on
the school's reputation, doesn't the school have an interest, or even
a liability, in the outcome? If the outcome is hurtful anti-rights
bigotry, or deceitful, or incompetent, shouldn't the university take
a stand? Does silence imply agreement or even support? This is perfect
junk science, isn't it?
If Fabricius got approval from ASU to do this work, it is not made
clear in the article. The sense I got is that he did it of his own
accord, as a private father-and-son project. Saying he was an ASU
researcher, and drawing them into this, may have been a stretch.
The real agenda shows in their close.
Any vestigial hope gun haters may have of salvaging some of these
fabrications collapses at the preposterous (though quite revealing)
final-sentence conclusion, that "unloaded guns may be more effective
at preventing crime than loaded guns," based on their results.
I cannot imagine a whiter utopian ivory cloister than that.
One wonders if perhaps the police could find some use for this ingenious
new concept. Or if the research team now plans to begin carrying unloaded
guns, just for safety.
Fabricius and his son can say and believe whatever they want. It's
a free country -- they can encourage people to carry unloaded guns
and try to attract followers if they like. But when they represent
this balderdash as real university-level science, in my opinion, they
are perpetrating a fraud. You don't want to be complicit with that.
ASU, The Tribune, Injury Prevention, come clean.
P.S. A lot of you have written to me to express concern about what's
going on with these people. Please feel free to let them know your
thoughts. Do be gentle. Ivory towers are delicate.
The Assoc. Prof.: firstname.lastname@example.org
Injury Prevention editor: email@example.com
Letters to the Tribune: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
The Tribune Reporter: Marija Potkonjak firstname.lastname@example.org
Arizona State University Pres.: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
ASU Student Newspaper: email@example.com
ASU Student Magazine: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pysch. Dept. Chair, Fabricius' boss: email@example.com The original newspaper
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