Just weeks after the Supreme Court issued its blockbuster opinion in the landmark Second Amendment case District of Columbia v. Heller, two prominent medical journals were in print with an editorial and two articles asserting that guns at home are a major public health problem.
First off the press was the July 31, 2008, New England Journal of Medicine editorial "Guns and Health," citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the number of injuries and deaths from handgun use. Five weeks later, the same journal published "Guns and Suicides in the United States," by the Harvard School of Public Health's Matthew Miller and David Hemenway, summarizing studies purporting to establish a direct relationship between suicides and household gun ownership. Four weeks later, Georgetown University law professor Lawrence Gostin expanded on the guns-cause-violence theme in "The Right to Bear Arms," a brief paper on gun control law and politics that appeared in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association.
The articles and editorial raise two important questions: Is there persuasive empirical data that lawful gun ownership makes the public less safe? If so, would public safety be enhanced by tighter gun controls? There is a rich academic literature examining those questions, and the literature indicates "No" for both questions.
Disappointingly, neither the NEJM nor JAMA wants to discuss those peer-reviewed studies. Indeed, when I offered to write a short article in response to the NEJM editorial, my offer was …