NPR aired an interview this past weekend (December 3, 2022) with gun violence researcher Eric Fleegler in which several false assertions were made. In introducing Dr. Fleegler, the interviewer, Sarah McCammon, referred to a “new study” published by Dr. Fleegler and his co-authors in the Journal of the American Medical Association concerning firearm related deaths in the United States over the past 30 years. A transcript of the essay was posted on the NPR website under the title, “Research sheds light on the dramatic rise in gun-related deaths since 2004.”
Although the study by Fleegler et al was newly published, it contained little in new information or insights. As the authors acknowledged in the methods section of their paper, all of the data upon which the paper was based was already available on the CDC website. And most of the facts that were spun as new revelations in the paper and in the interview should be well known to anyone who’s been following the posts on the Americans Against Gun Violence website over the past six years. These “new revelations” include the facts that rate of U.S. gun related deaths has been rising steeply to record levels in recent years and that gunshot wounds are now the leading cause of death in American children and youth.
In the interview, Fleegler stated:
In 2021, it’s over 48,000 people who have died by firearms. And that’s a shockingly high number. We need to think as a society, how do we approach gun violence?
Fleegler stated toward the end of the interview that we need to approach preventing gun related deaths in the same way in which we’ve approached preventing deaths in motor vehicle crashes. He cited seatbelts, airbags, and drunk driving laws as effective measures, and he concluded:
What we didn’t do is say, you can’t have a car, and we take away the cars because people are dying. We need to think about guns in the same way.
The interviewer didn’t challenge Fleegler concerning this statement – a statement that ignores the fundamental difference between automobiles and guns.
Most modern automobiles are specifically designed to transport people safely and efficiently from point A to point B, and they’re used effectively for this purpose more than 99% of the time. Most modern firearms are specifically designed to efficiently kill people; and the shocking statistics that Fleegler cited in the interview document that guns were used effectively for this purpose in the United States more than 48,000 times in 2021. And while the gun industry and its associated lobby promote the myth that honest, law-abiding people should own guns for self-defense, there is overwhelming evidence that guns in the homes and in the communities of honest, law-abiding people are far more likely to be used to harm them than to protect them. For example, a study published more than 25 years ago in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine showed that for every one time a gun in the home was used to kill a home invader, there were 43 gun-related deaths of a household member, including gun-related suicides, homicides, and accidents.[i] More recent FBI data show that for every one time a gun is used to kill someone in self-defense, there are 35 criminal gun related homicides.[ii]
Fleegler’s assertion that we can significantly reduce rates of gun related deaths without reducing our vast pool of privately owned guns is also counterfactual. There is a direct relationship between rates of per capita gun ownership and rates of gun related deaths, and as the graph below demonstrates, the United States is an extreme outlier in both categories as compared with all other high income democratic countries.
We don’t need any more data – or another rehash of old data – to know that in order to stop our uniquely American epidemic of gun violence, we must drastically reduce the number of privately owned guns in our country through the adoption stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws in other high income democratic countries. As the late Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut stated on the floor of the U.S. Senate in June of 1968, more than half a century ago:
Pious condolences will no longer suffice….Quarter measures and half measures will no longer suffice….The time has now come that we must adopt stringent gun control legislation comparable to the legislation in force in virtually every civilized country in the world.
Please contact NPR Weekend Edition to call for a retraction of the false assertions in the interview with Eric Fleegler, including: 1) the assertion that the study by Fleegler et al provides evidence to support a new direction any different from that advocated by Senator Dodd more than half a century ago concerning the definitive steps needed to stop our country’s epidemic of gun violence; 2) the assertion that preventing deaths from gunshot wounds is analogous to preventing deaths from motor vehicle crashes; and, 3) the assertion that we can significantly reduce rates of gun violence in our country without drastically reducing the vast pool of privately owned guns. Please also urge NPR to conduct an interview with Americans Against Gun Violence president Dr. Bill Durston as a counterpoint to the false assertions made in the interview with Dr. Fleegler.
[i] Arthur L. Kellermann and Donald T. Reay, “Protection or Peril? An Analysis of Firearm-Related Deaths in the Home,” New England Journal of Medicine 314, no. 24 (June 12, 1986): 1557–60, https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM198606123142406.
[ii] “Self-Defense Gun Use,” Violence Policy Center (blog), 2017, https://vpc.org/revealing-the-impacts-of-gun-violence/self-defense-gun-use/.