Conservatives Make SJWs Happy
By Pierre Lemieux
Founded in England 197 years ago, The Lancet is a venerable medical, public-health, and social-justice-warrior journal. It just expressed its contentment in the fact that “after a hiatus of more than two decades, Congress and President Donald Trump agreed to add funding for gun violence research to the federal budget in December” (“Decisions To Be Made on US Gun Violence Research Funds,” February 8, 2020). It apparently foresees that the new research, to be commissioned by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will justify increased gun controls and challenge the right of ordinary people to own and carry guns.
A good argument can be made that gun violence—as well as many other problems or phenomena—should be the subject of scientific studies, although the argument that they should be paid for by the taxpayer is more questionable. When commissioned by government bureaus and realized by public-health experts with no knowledge of economics (which knowledge suggests to take all individuals’ preferences into consideration), no knowledge of the economics of politics (which would incorporate the danger of Leviathan), and, philosophically, no knowledge of the classical-liberal tradition, such studies nearly always reach the conclusion they are designed to reach: selfless politicians and good government bureaucrats should limit the individual liberties of non-favored groups in society—”deplorable” gun owners in this case. This approach is consistent with what, in a previous Econlog post, I called the “simplistic model of public policy.”
You can see the bias between the lines, and even on the lines, of the Lancet‘s article, which comes with the obligatory picture of a gun shop counter with firearms for sale to ordinary citizens:
Gun-related injuries are the second leading cause of death among children, said Cunningham, who also leads the NIH-funded Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium, involving 25 researchers at 12 universities. In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics last year, the consortium identified 26 areas of research aimed at reducing these fatalities. Their questions were divided into five categories: epidemiology and risk and protective factors; primary prevention, including safe storage; secondary prevention; efficacy of gun safety policies and laws; and improving data collection and access. …
But Eve Levenson, federal affairs director for the activist group March for Our Lives, has great hopes for the government’s gun violence research projects, comparing them to the studies on motor vehicle accidents that led to seat belt rules. “We believe this is really going to be a game changer for the gun violence prevention movement and for being able to save lives.”
It is a bit more complicated than that. “Safe storage” typically means what it means in Canada: that you are legally obliged, in your own home, to “store” your guns in locked cabinets or safes without ammunition, so that they are not available in case you need them for self-defense. You cannot carry a gun in your own home or a handgun on your own land. The slippery-slope history of gun control in Canada is, like in the UK, very instructive. If you think I am exaggerating, you might like to read my review-essay “Disarming Canadians” on the Law and Liberty side of this site.
As for children’s deaths, they are among the tragic events that should be minimized if doing so does not require universal convent life or police-state measures. Again, it is more complicated than the Lancet suggests: many other causes weigh more than firearms. A third of the 4,162 accidental deaths of American children less than 15 years old in 2017 come from motor vehicle accidents. Some 17% were due to accidental drowning and submersion. Some 2% were accidentally poisoned (“accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances”) and 1.5% died from firearms accidents. One more child (63 in total) died from “complications of medical and surgical procedures” than from firearms accidents. Two-thirds of the 522 children who committed suicide (a very troubling figure) did not do it with a gun. Of the 937 children who were victims of homicide, 72% did not die from firearm injuries. (Data from Kenneth D. Kochanek et al., “Deaths: Final Data for 2017,” National Vital Statistics Reports 68:9, US Department of Health and Human Services, June 24, 2019, Table 6.)
The proverbial visitor from Mars would think that the Trump administration, which has no ideas but only intuitions (some good, most bad), has been eaten alive by the culture-bearers, word-crafters, and trend-setters of the left. The Lancet explains the signification of the new research budget:
In the 1990s, a bipartisan group of senators threatened to cut all funding for the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which they contended was pursuing a gun control agenda. The ensuing debate led to passage of the Dickey Amendment, a 1996 law that prevents federal gun research funds to be used to advocate for gun control measures. But it also had a chilling effect that led to a virtual ban on such funding, said Cunningham. “This is the first time there has been dedicated funding.”
It is true that in conflictual politics, that is, politics conceived as the struggle of groups over who will control whom, as opposed to an exchange process for producing public goods unanimously desired, horse-trading is essential. That the Trump administration traded that research horse against other goodies from the Democrats shows the depth of its proclaimed support for the Second Amendment.
In an involuntary illustration of the weaknesses of social planners—after all, they are just humans who want to control other humans—the Lancet’s editors, quoting a NIH spokeswoman, make a funny typo:
We are coordinating with CDC to ensure that our research efforts are complimentary [sic], and we anticipate issuing funding announcements in the near future.
Indeed, they will get $25 million in gun-control research money, compliment of the taxpayer. Of course, errare humanum est, and that include typos. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Perhaps the typo (see picture above) will have been corrected by the time you click the link to the article (this one being the pdf version). But, I fear, the Lancet’s bias against ordinary people’s preferences, choices, and liberty will remain.