Gun Control: Does Biased Research Foster Workplace Danger?

To bolster their hypothetical link between concealed carry and workplace violence, Brady Campaign references a paper published by researchers from the University of North Carolina:

As a result of the NRA’s shall-issue laws, companies that have not taken affirmative steps to keep guns out of the workplace and off company property have faced an increased risk of workplace violence. Indeed, a study published in May 2005 in the American Journal of Public Health concluded: “[W]orkplaces where guns were specifically permitted were 5 to 7 times more likely to be the site of a worker homicide relative to those where all weapons were prohibited.”1

 Science or Opinion?Brady cited a paper entitled Employer Policies Toward Guns and the Risk of Homicide in the Workplace. The authors, Loomis and Marshall, surveyed companies in North Carolina about policies regarding firearms in the workplace and concluded:

Workplaces where guns were permitted were about 5 times as likely to experience a homicide as those where all weapons were prohibited…The findings suggest that policies allowing guns in the workplace might increase workers’ risk of homicide.2

 The authors introduce their topic by stating their real agenda as an assumption: “we hypothesized that policies allowing guns in the workplace may increase the risk of homicide for workers.”3 A more appropriate hypothesis would have been: “Do policies allowing guns in the workplace have an impact on the risk of homicide?”The authors admit:

This study was limited by the nature of the data available on worker’s exposure to guns. We generally did not know how often employees had guns at work, whether worker’s guns were used during the fatal events, and whether perpetrators came armed or used the victims’ own weapons. The inability to examine worker’s or perpetrators’ actions limited the ability of the current study to look beyond employers’ policies.4

 Relevant data points are missing. The authors do not know if concealed carry licensees were involved in any of the shootings, or if these licensees had any moderating effect on the attacks. The authors do not know how often or how many employees were bringing firearms to work, so they do not know if greater presence of firearms at the time of incident had a positive or negative effect on the attack. All the authors can address is the relative restrictiveness of an employer’s policy regarding firearms possession on the premises. Even though they conclude there is a correlation between an employer’s liberal firearms policy and shootings, they ignore the causal relationship: did the employer allow trusted employees to carry on the job because they recognized their business was more at risk for an attack? The authors note that workplaces with security “control measures” such as locked entrances, bright lighting and alarms had the greatest probability of homicide, and also note that high-risk workplaces have the second-highest probability.5 Curiously, the authors derogate their own findings:

Although we collected data on workplaces’ experience with robbery and violent crime, we did not control for it in the models presented here because adjustment for a determinant of exposure generally is not appropriate.6

 Nor do they answer another relevant question: If firearms in the workplace lead to more shootings, why do we not read reports of incidents occurring in police stations, where virtually everybody is armed?  Poison FruitAnti-rights organizations often cite such research papers to promote their agenda. In 1986, Kellermann and Reay studied gunshot deaths in King County, Washington. They concluded: “We noted 43 suicides, criminal homicides, or accidental gunshot deaths involving a gun kept in the home for every case of homicide for self-protection.”7This conclusion is often cited when gun control organizations promote their policies. For example, two representatives of Ban Handgun Violence, in their opinion piece supporting San Francisco’s proposed firearms ban, stated:

The New England Journal of Medicine found that a handgun in the home makes it 43 times more likely that a friend, family member, or acquaintance will be killed than an intruder.8

 However, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science (NAS) had this to say about this conclusion:

Kellermann and Reay find that there were nearly 5 times as many homicides and 37 times as many suicides as perpetrators killed in self-defense. They go on to conclude, “The advisability of keeping a firearm in the home for protection must be questioned.”  Although the facts are in no doubt, the conclusions do not seem to follow. Certainly, effective defensive gun use need not ever lead the perpetrator to be wounded or killed. Rather, to assess the benefits of self-defense, one needs to measure crime and injury averted. The particular outcome of an offender is of little relevance.9 

The NAS panel actually challenged Kellermann’s and Reay’s conclusions, saying they were of “little relevance” because there is no established relationship between homicide/suicide and defense against criminal perpetrators. This also highlights the problem of sampling error, where the small group studied does not reflect the actual experience of the entire population. Right-to-carry (RTC) states–where law-abiding gun owners may publicly carry concealed handguns–are considered by Brady to be more dangerous. Yet in 2005, they had a 43.8% lower murder rate and a 27.8% lower violent crime rate than non-RTC states, showing Kellermann’s hypothesis to be inaccurate when applied to the national population.10Loomis and Marshall based their conclusions on 296 businesses,11 but the Small Business Administration notes that in 2003–the latest data available–there were 166,070 employer businesses in North Carolina alone.12 Loomis and Marshall based their conclusions on less than 0.2% of all North Carolina businesses, and highlights how fragile such conclusions are when compared to national data sets. Loomis and Marshall cite other Kellermann research as the basis for their assumption that guns in the workplace increase homicide risk.13 The NAS panel found Kellermann’s conclusions in the Loomis and Marshall reference “are not tenable.”14 Furthermore, they quote Kellermann’s own disclaimer: “it is possible that reverse causation accounted for some of the association we observed between gun ownership and homicide.”15 He acknowledges uncertainty over his own conclusion that gun ownership in the home causes more homicide. ConclusionLoomis and Marshall rely upon discredited research to justify making a biased conclusion at the outset of their study. They then ignore their own findings as inappropriate when they conflict with their predetermined outcome. Basing policy upon such a questionable publication invites its own risk. About the AuthorHoward Nemerov is an investigative analyst for NRA News. He can be reached at HNemerov [at sign] Netvista.net.Endnotes[1] Legal Action Project, Forced Entry: The National Rifle Association’s Campaign To Force Business To Accept Guns At Work, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, November 2005, page 1. http://www.bradycampaign.com/xshare/pdf/forced-entry-report.pdf2 Dana Loomis, PhD, Stephen W. Marshall, PhD, and Myduc L. Ta, MPH, Employer Policies Toward Guns and the Risk of Homicide in the Workplace, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 95, No. 5, May 2005, abstract, page 830.3 Ibid.4 Ibid, page 831.5 Ibid.6 Ibid.7 Arthur L. Kellermann and Donald T. Reay, Protection or Peril?: An Analysis of Firearm-Related Deaths in the Home, 314 New Eng. J. Med. 1557-60 1986, page 1560.8 Bill Barnes and Burke Strunsky, NRA out of S.F., San Francisco Bay Guardian.http://www.sfbg.com/39/15/x_oped.html9 Charles F. Wellford, John V. Pepper, Carol V. Petrie, et al, Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review, National Academy of Science, copyright 2004, page 118. 10 Compiled from Table 4 – Crime in the United States by Region, Geographic Division, and State, 2004-2005. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/05cius/data/documents/05tbl04.xls and Table 5 – Crime in the United States by State, 2005. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/05cius/data/documents/05tbl05.xls Email request for spreadsheet.11 Dana Loomis, PhD, Stephen W. Marshall, PhD, and Myduc L. Ta, MPH, Employer Policies Toward Guns and the Risk of Homicide in the Workplace, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 95, No. 5, May 2005, page 830.12 Office of Advocacy, Small Business Profile: North Carolina, Small Business Administration, 2006, page 2. http://www.sba.gov/advo/research/profiles/06nc.pdf 13 Dana Loomis, PhD, Stephen W. Marshall, PhD, and Myduc L. Ta, MPH, Employer Policies Toward Guns and the Risk of Homicide in the Workplace, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 95, No. 5, May 2005, page 832. See their notes 3 and 4.14 Charles F. Wellford, John V. Pepper, Carol V. Petrie, et al, Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review, National Academy of Science, copyright 2004, page 118. 15 Charles F. Wellford, John V. Pepper, Carol V. Petrie, et al, Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review, National Academy of Science, copyright 2004, page 119.