What are the risks and benefits of having a handgun in the home to those who don't actually own the gun? David Studdert, LLB, ScD, a Stanford professor of medicine and law, plans to investigate these "secondhand" effects with the support of a new grant from the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research.
When I asked Studdert, in this 1:2:1 podcast, if he was concerned that Second Amendment advocates might view academic research as inherently biased and see it as an attempt to build a case for gun control, he immediately corrected me. "I don't like the term gun control. That's not a term in my vocabulary... we're really talking about gun safety. We're data scientists. We have a large data set, and we're going to follow that data set where it leads us."
Research on gun violence using federal money has essentially been stymied due to a little-known measure called the Dickey Amendment. In 1996, Arkansas Congressman Jay Dickey, inserted an amendment to a budget appropriation that has been interpreted as prohibiting federal dollars from being used to fund research into firearm violence. Without federal dollars, research has been severely limited, and the ramifications, Studdert told me, "are that we have much less information, much less knowledge about the seeds of violence than what we really need."
"Forty thousand people are killed each year from firearm violence in the United States, and we know about as much about firearm violence as we do about lawn mower accidents," Studdert said. "The central question of the research is whether as a gun owner, it's a rational decision for purposes of personal security to have a gun."
Some things are known about the risks of having guns. Two thirds of all firearm deaths are firearm suicides and there is a good deal of research suggesting that access to a firearm is a risk factor for firearm suicide, Studdert said.
This study, Studdert told me, is focused on handgun ownership. "We're following a large cohort of residents of California... to try to see if [gun owners] have higher rates of particular kinds of injury, particularly firearm related injuries, adjusting for the differences between [gun] owners and non-owners."
I asked Studdert to tell me how he is hoping his research will be used. Does he want it to help guide public policy or individual decisions about gun ownership?
"I should say that we're not under any illusion that results from this study will tell the average American gun owner or buyer whether or not it's a good thing to buy a gun. I don't think that empirical data in this area can do that and that's not what we're hoping to do. What we'd like to do is to help them make an informed choice... [to compare] what are the risks associated with gun ownership with what are the perceived benefits."
So this isn't, I asked, a surreptitious effort to attack the Second Amendment?
"No. Not at all."
Image by Cool Silh