Article published Friday, August 31, 2001, p. 15 at Los Angeles Times.

Gun Panel Hears With an Ear Shut

By John R. Lott Jr.

Isn't it obvious that the government should fund academic research?

Yet as clear as the benefits seem, there is a downside: Government officials simply cannot resist injecting politics into anything they touch. Denying that politics enters science is like denying that politics plays a role in what weapons systems are developed by the military. Surely the academics who stand togain the research money for stem cell or AIDS research, for example, are prone to exaggerate what they hope to accomplish.

But there is a more insidious problem from government funding: Politicians want research that supports their positions. Only certain types of questions get to be studied, with funding restricted to select, pre-approved researchers or institutions.

Take the new National Academy of Sciences panel set to study firearms research. The panel, meeting for the first time this week was started during the last days of the Clinton administration. Its report is scheduled to be released right before the 2004 elections.

The project scope set out by the Clinton people was carefully planned to examine only the negative side of guns. Rather than compare how firearms facilitate both harm and self-defense, the panel was asked only to examine "firearm violence" or how "firearms may become embedded in [a] community." It is difficult to come up with a positive spin on terms like "embedded."

President Clinton could never bring himself to mention that guns can be used for self-defense, so it is not surprising that the project scope never mentions defensive use. But there are academic studies showing that people use guns defensively 2 million times a year. Failing to consider this makes it difficult to see how any panel could seriously "evaluate various prevention, intervention and control strategies." What if a new law disarms law-abiding citizens rather than criminals? Might that not increase crime?

Moreover, while not everyone on the committee has taken a public stand on firearms, roughly half the members are known for supporting gun control. One member, Benjamin R. Civiletti, attorney general in the Carter administration, has said, "The nation can no longer afford to let the gun lobby's distortion of the Constitution cripple every reasonable attempt to implement an effective national policy toward guns and crime." Another, Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, wrote that despite there not being any research showing that the Brady Act had reduced crime, opposition to the act rests on emotions that are "immune to scientific assessment."

Also, it is odd that the panel is accepting supplemental funding only from private foundations, such as the Joyce Foundation, that have exclusively supported gun control in the past.

So how well does this panel represent the academic spectrum on this issue? Pretty poorly. Two years ago, 294 academics from universities such as Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, the University of Chicago and Northwestern signed an open letteron gun control asking that Congress "before enacting yet more new laws ... investigate whether many of the existing laws may have contributed to the problems we currently face." These academics concluded that "new legislation is ill-advised." Yet not a single one of them was included on the National Academy of Sciences panel.

Is this how we want government research money spent--on a stacked panel askedto examine one side of an issue and report right before a presidential election?Is this what science really means to the U.S. government? LOAD-DATE: August 31, 2001


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Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

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