Jacob Sullum

In November 1988, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that noted Seattle's homicide rate was higher than Vancouver's and attributed the difference to stricter gun control in Vancouver. Although the study had serious flaws, including the failure to take into account important demographic differences between the two cities, it received generous coverage in two major newspapers known for their sympathy to gun control.

The Washington Post covered the report in a 600-word, staff-written story on page A4 under the headline "Impact of Gun Control Indicated in Medical Study." The New York Times story ("Gun Curbs Linked to Homicide Rate") was about the same length, although it was by a stringer and appeared deeper in the A section.

The Times made up for those lapses with an editorial about the study later that month. Under the headline "Guns Do Kill People," it said "the study appears to buttress common-sense wisdom about public safety (i.e., our position on gun control)."

This month, when a government-appointed panel of experts announced that their comprehensive review of the relevant scientific literature (including the Seattle/Vancouver study) had failed to find evidence that gun control works, The Washington Post gave the story about 200 words in its "Findings" column. The New York Times (D.C. edition) ran fewer than 150 words of an A.P. story on the bottom of page A23, under a tiny headline that gave no indication of the report's conclusions.

So far the Times has not run an editorial conceding that the research review -- which by a strictly scientific or journalistic reckoning ought to carry considerably more weight than a single inconclusive study -- "appears to undermine common-sense wisdom about public safety." I'm guessing it won't, even though the report was commissioned by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), usually a gun control booster.

It's natural, of course, to highlight information that fits one's preconceptions while downplaying information than doesn't. With that in mind, it's important to note that the CDC panel's review, in addition to criticizing studies purportedly showing that gun control reduces violence, finds fault with economist John Lott's research on the crime-deterring benefits of allowing people to carry concealed firearms.

The panelists considered 51 published studies examining seven different kinds of laws, including bans on specific firearms, restrictions on who may own a firearm, and waiting periods for gun purchases. They "found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws."

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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