March 2, 1999
Philip R. Fine, PhD, MSPH
Injury Control Research Center
University of Alabama at Birmingham
CH 19 403, UAB Station
Birmingham, AL 35294-2041
Dear Dr. Fine:
Thank you for your invitation to comment on the videotaped presentation given recently by Dr. David Reynolds. As a full-time practicing surgeon I have operated on my share of patients with gunshot injuries. I share Dr. Reynolds's desire to mitigate the violence done to people and to our society as a result of firearm misuse.
I also firmly believe that in studying firearm violence we must adhere to the rules of scientific inquiry, as we would in any field of study. In firearm research the task is doubly hard because of the deep and stirring emotions surrounding the very idea of firearm ownership. Our beliefs about the right of self defense, personal empowerment, and society's response to violent criminals are always just under the surface any time even scientists talk about guns.
Although Dr. Reynolds clearly has strong feelings concerning guns, scientific principles require more than emotion. He admitted at the outset that his presentation was a "right brain" approach, and the audience could seek facts and figures elsewhere. But in a presentation sponsored by a school of science, facts and figures are required. Objectivity is the spirit of science and data is the substance. Dr. Reynolds gave us neither.
I shall list two points where the evidence either fails to support or refutes Dr. Reynolds's claims. Then I shall cover several items he addressed which are not in the realm of science but which call for clarification.
1) Dr. Reynolds admonished his audience "A defensive gun in the home is either dangerous or unnecessary." The data he presented did not directly address this question. He did cite Dr. Arthur Kellermann's studies about risks of firearms in the home. Kellermann's work has been shown to suffer from fatal errors of methodology, most notably selection bias.(1) Nowhere did Dr. Reynolds mention the substantial body of criminology evidence that demonstrates the efficacy of defensive firearm use.(2) With his background it is hard to believe he was not aware of this research. One is obliged to conclude that he intentionally omitted it from his presentation.
2) Dr. Reynolds tried to illustrate the dangers of guns in the home with the claim that between 1987 and 1992 81 Jefferson County residents were shot to death in their own homes by [sic] a gun kept there. He presents a raw number of deaths in an apparent plea to sentiment. It could not have been a meaningfully quantitative assertion, because he gave no denominator. Nor did he acknowledge the possibility that any Jefferson County residents may have used their guns for self defense.
3) Dr. Reynolds advocated using a shotgun instead of a handgun for home defense. He stated that a shotgun load will not overpenetrate and pose a risk to neighbors, and one need only point the gun in the general direction of the threat, marksmanship being nonessential. This advice is dangerously wrong. A typical buckshot load suitable for defense throws a pattern of shot similar to multiple .30 caliber rifle bullets. They do overpenetrate, as opposed to properly expanding handgun bullets. As with any firearm used at any but the closest range, one must aim a shotgun to hit the target and avoid unintended injury.
4) Dr. Reynolds made a plea for those who "have to have [the gun] dischargeable, ready to fire, please trigger lock it." But trigger lock manufacturers explicitly warn users to never place a trigger lock on a loaded gun. To do so invites an accidental (which is to say negligent) discharge, with the possibility of crippling or fatal injury.
5) Dr. Reynolds dismissed concerns about mandated gun safety devices making handguns too expensive for poor people by saying, "As far as I'm concerned, the people who don't have much money, [who] have the highest firearm morbidity and mortality, they shouldn't even have one [a handgun]." Disregarding the jarring prejudice in this statement, we should recognize that low-income people are those most in need of self defense. They often live in the highest-crime neighborhoods, and the burden of being defenseless falls more heavily on them than on those who can afford to live in safer areas.(3)
6) "The Second Amendment does not guarantee anybody a right to own a gun." Dr. Reynolds buttresses this assertion with reference to the U.S. Supreme Court's Miller case. In fact the Supreme Court has not ruled on the Second Amendment in any fashion which could be considered dispositive. Until it does, we can only rely on the opinions of legal scholars, which overwhelmingly support what has become known as the standard model...that the Second Amendment affirms an individual right, not some state's right, to keep and bear arms.(4)
7) Finally, Dr. Reynolds advocates unethical physician behavior. He urges doctors to probe their patients about handguns in their homes, and to advise them to get rid of any handguns they have. The anti-scientific tenor of his talk with its repeated calls for legislative anti-gun advocacy reveals his motivation to be unambiguously political. And that political motivation puts his actions into the category of unethical physician conduct known as boundary violations.(5)
Dr. Reynolds stated he has lost about seven families from his pediatric practice because of his urging them to get rid of their handguns. He is fortunate if none of them has written complaints to his local medical society or state licensing board. These families would have been well within their rights to report his unethical behavior, which is a violation of the trust a patient necessarily places in his physician.
Organized medical groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics have already lost credibility with American gun owners. Through their prejudice in science and their presumption in the doctor-patient relationship anti-gun activists have entered ethically dangerous territory. Let us hope they will soon return to reason and honesty.
Timothy Wheeler, MD
Director, Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership
P.O. Box 1931
Upland, CA 91785-1931
Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership is a project of The Claremont Institute, http://www.claremont.org
1) Suter E, Guns in the Medical Literature: a Failure of Peer Review, Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia, March 1994, 133-148.
2) Stolinsky D and Wheeler T, Firearms: a Handbook for Health Professionals, The Claremont Institute, Claremont, California 1999 (in press). Attached is the Selected Bibliography of the handbook (with permission of The Claremont Institute).
3) Wright J and Rossi P, Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and Their Firearms, Aldine de Gruyter, New York 1986, 238.
4) Kates D and Kleck G, The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence, Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, San Francisco 1997, 38-43.
5) Wheeler T, Boundary Violation: Gun Politics in the Doctor's Office, The Medical Sentinel, March-April 1999, 60-61.
Kates, Don B, Henry E. Schaffer, John K. Lattimer, George B. Murray, and Edwin W. Cassem. "Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence, or Pandemic of Propaganda?" Tennessee Law Review 62, No. 3 (Spring 1995): 513-596. A criminologist, a biostatistician, and three medical school professors dissect the public health anti-gun advocacy literature.
Kleck, Gary. Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1997. An updated rendition of Professor Kleck's award-winning technical book Point Blank, this work is aimed at a general audience.
Kopel, David B. The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy: Should America Adopt the Gun Controls of Other Democracies? Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1992. This widely published author and former New York City assistant district attorney traces a cross-cultural history of firearms laws and traditions. Mr. Kopel shows why the firearm laws of one country cannot necessarily be transplanted to another.
Lott, John R. More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. University of Chicago professor Lott exhaustively analyzes violent crime trends in relation to laws governing concealed carry of firearms. As more critics have honestly reviewed his research, they are led to the same conclusion: private firearm ownership saves lives, prevents injuries, and protects property.
Malcolm, Joyce Lee. To Keep and Bear Arms: the Origins of an Anglo-American Right. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994. Bentley College Professor of History Joyce Lee Malcolm delineates the roots of this much-misunderstood principle of the American founding. She shows how the individual right to keep and bear arms was "secured by Englishmen and bequeathed to their American colonists."
Wright, James D. and Peter H. Rossi. Armed and Considered Dangerous: a Survey of Felons and Their Firearms. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1986.In this detailed study funded by the National Institute of Justice, criminologists Wright and Rossi focus on how and why criminals acquire, carry, and use firearms.