Sunday, February 10, 2008

Heller's Friends: The Doctors' Prescription

This is sixth in a series of reviews of the briefs filed with the Supreme Court supporting the Second Amendment in the historic case District of Columbia vs. Heller.

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons was founded in 1943 to represent thousands of physicians in all types of practices and specialties. It has a decidedly more conservative perspective than does the AMA.

Their brief speaks to three points in particular:

  • The weakest members of society often need protection from the strongest;
  • The amici briefs filed by medical professionals supporting the District relied on seriously flawed studies and logic to support their positions; and,
  • Too many of their colleagues ignore consideration of any comparative benefit that accrues from widespread or individual ownership of firearms.
First, the recognition that opinions held by many of their colleagues are based on flawed or even cooked studies:
…contemporary “medical” studies about the benefits and harms of gun ownership should have no effect on interpreting a provision of a constitution enacted over 200 years ago. Yet the amici briefs filed by the medical groups APHA and AAP implicitly argue for interpreting the Constitution in a manner that is subject to the latest claims of one-sided studies deficient in credibility…

The biggest study in support of gun control in the past decade was published by then-Professor Michael Bellesiles, who wrote a book entitled Arming America, The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000). Garry Wills gave it a glowing review in The New York Times, but admitted later that “I was took. The book is a fraud.” Bellesiles later resigned from his position as Professor of History at Emory University in Atlanta when an independent commit- tee of scholars examined his work and concluded that “his scholarly integrity is seriously in question.” George Mason University’s History News Network, “Summary of the Emory Report on Michael Bellesiles”

But citations of flawed studies have undermined the judiciary. Four reported decisions have relied on Bellesiles’ work, and the Ninth Circuit felt compelled to amend one of its prior rulings to purge its prior reference to the then-discredited Bellesiles.
D.C.’s amici say that children cannot be taught gun safety, but here’s a fun tidbit…
In Switzerland, a country where D.C.-style gun control is rejected, thousands of children have competed in an annual celebration of guns since 1657: In Zurich [today], some 5,631 teens – 4,046 boys and 1,585 girls, aged 13-17 – have finished firing the Swiss service rifle, and it’s time for the shootoff. That rifle is the SIG Strumgeweher (assault rifle) model 1990 (Stgw 90), a selective fire, 5.6 mm rifle with folding skeleton stock, bayonet lug, bipod, and grenade launcher.

If it were impossible to teach children gun safety, as AAP claims in its brief, then this annual event could not exist.
AAP’s emphasis on the death of children from firearms is also misleading. One study not cited by AAP found that 71% of the children and adolescents who were injured in drive-by shootings were, in fact, “documented members of violent street gangs.”

Firearm accident rates for children in the United States have generally declined for a hundred years, with sharper declines in the last several decades since 1975. By 1986 the accidental firearm death rate had fallen to about 6 per million, and by 1993 dropped further to only 5 per million. That is comparable to the rate of serious injury from vaccination, a risk widely accepted within the medical profession and even the public at large

The amici brief submitted by the American Public Health Association cites 30,000 deaths and 70,000 injuries from firearms, but does not say how many resulted from use of illegal rather than lawful guns and how many were in self- defense against illegal activity.
They raise an absolutely fascinating counter-argument, along with 100cc worth of facts to support it.
The same logic underlying their briefs’ approach to gun control could be used to insist on a ban on automobiles or swimming pools, by focusing only on the harm they cause and failing to ad- dress their benefits. But the benefits of guns are un- deniable: one physician surveyed published studies and estimated that the defensive use of guns saves 25 to 75 lives for every one lost to a gun.

While the magnitude of that comparative benefit may be debated, there is no denying that there are substantial benefits from gun ownership, and no discussion of the harm is complete without addressing the benefits. Virtually all medical professionals support use of drugs and vaccines that cause serious adverse effects as long as they confer greater benefits, yet that basic analytical approach is missing from Petitioners’ Medical Amici.
They make the argument that guns are primarily a defensive weapon, empowering defenders, especially weaker defenders, to avoid surrender and the harm that results.
The misperception of guns as primarily an offensive weapon can be traced to the influence of the media: an offensive use of a gun that causes violence is startling news, while a defensive use that prevents violence is not. Had someone used a gun to avert the 9/11 massacre, it would not have generated anything near the amount of news that did result.

By focusing only on harm resultant from an activity, those submissions falsely conclude that gun ownership is itself harmful. With that approach they would conclude that vaccines, heart surgery, and even bathtubs are harmful and could be profitably banned. But all those products and services – like the ownership of guns – confer benefits that far exceed the attendant harm.
And they very effectively bring the general to the specific.
Gun control, like the D.C. statutes at issue here, robs citizens of the ability to defend themselves.

This past December, Matthew Murray arrived at New Life Church in Colorado Springs with an assault rifle, two handguns, and as many as 1000 rounds of ammunition. In the parking lot he killed two teenage sisters and wounded their father, and then proceeded towards hundreds of people at the church itself. A horrible massacre was averted when churchgoer Jeanne Assam repeatedly shot Murray in a defensive use of her own weapon. Had gun control prevented Assam from carrying her gun, Murray would likely have killed hundreds of people. The police responded within minutes to 911 calls, but that was not quick enough to stop the gunman. Only meaningful self- defense can do that.
The bring out a strong argument that all of society is better off, safer, with guns than without them.
Contrary to public perception, violence was worse before the advent of guns: [M]urderous brawls and violent deaths at the hands of robbers were everyday occurrences in medieval England. The average annual homicide rates for five rural counties, studied at scattered intervals between 1202 and 1276, [were found to have] ranged from 9 per 100,000 in Norfolk population to 23 in Kent .... Knives, axes, cudgels, and other implements found in every agricultural community were the typical instruments of death
We've been bombarded in recent years by too many in the medical community saying bad, bad.
Guns are not pathogens, and the loss of lives from guns is not a public health phenomenon in any meaningful sense. Vaccines could be taken as a public health analogy for guns. Vaccines are widely recommended or even mandated with the support of the APHA and AAP despite the fact that many are killed or injured by them, and their effectiveness is imperfect. But the APHA’s and AAP’s logic could be applied to vaccines with the false conclusion that all vaccination programs are harmful because all vaccines have some side effects. The benefits of vaccines and guns are both indirect, but the benefits are very real in both cases, and it is essential to address those benefits in any argument attempting to ban the product.
Then, a strong close, as the doctors remind the Justices of what a great Justice has written.
Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story considered the Second Amendment to be the most important individual right of all: The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.

The doctors' brief is here.

Heller's Friends in Congress, And One More
Heller’s Friends: Claremont Institute and the Scholars
The Heller Posse: A Roundup of Briefs: The NRA
Heller: The Good Guys Shoot Back, With Effect
On Heller: Shot in the Back by the Bush DOJ

For even more on the case and the subject, click here.

Thank goodness, Marcus Welby has arrived.


Doug said...

This reader was a Special Police Officer in D.C. Public housing circa 1992.

I have also worked private security in high density housing in Virginia right outside D.C and driven a cab in Arlington.

A person who supports the D.C. ban need only duplicate my experience for a corrective experience and a corresponding moment of clarity.

Bob Leibowitz said...

Doug -- Thank you for your comment.

Awareness can create a completely different perspective. So, I've found, can fear.

I suspect that if our legislators could be challenged to spend a week in your shoes, their views might nearly match our own, to the benefit of all.

John Hardin said...

A link to this brief, plz?

Bob Leibowitz said...

JHardin -- The link is up and running at the bottom of the post. Thank you for the reminder. -- Bob