According to Dr. Gary Kleck:
"[His] findings appear to be the product of 'data-dredging', a
procedure whereby a researcher tests many different versions of the same
hypothesis (e.g. gun owners are bad), and misleadingly reports the results of
one or two versions of the hypothesis as being 'statistically significant'. If
one tests a large enough number of versions, at least one will be
'statistically significant' by chance alone, even if there is no validity to
Kleck is a Professor at Florida State University's School of Criminology and
Criminal Justice, and a well-respected expert in his field. The target of
Kleck's remarks was David Hemenway, PhD., Professor of Health Policy at
Harvard's School of Public Health.
Hemenway's latest attempt at data-dredging appeared in the February 1997
issue of the American Journal of Public Health. That article,
"Characteristics of Automatic or Semiautomatic Firearm Ownership in the
United States", attempts to make a connection between problem-drinking and
semi-automatic (read: "rapid-fire") gun ownership. It was paid for by
you, the American taxpayer, because it was supported, in part, by the Centers
for Disease Control (CDC). Authored by Dr. David Hemenway and Elizabeth
Richardson, it's a perfect illustration of the phrase "figures lie, and
The title itself underscores the deception Hemenway tries to perpetrate.
Hemenway creates a firearm category - "automatic or semiautomatic."
The phrase "automatic or semiautomatic" is used 30 times in the course
of the three-page paper - 13 times on the first page, alone. Only in his final
paragraph does Hemenway admit to the reader that, in the course of his survey,
he "did not ask about automatics or semiautomatics separately." That
trick allows Hemenway to confuse the firearm-ignorant reader, and extend the
rapid-firing capability of fully automatic firearms to semi-automatic firearms.
Hemenway knew that respondents to his survey most probably did not include
any owners of fully automatic firearms, for, in the final sentence of his paper,
he admits, also, that "fully automatic weapons in private hands are
rare." So rare, in fact, that, given the number of lawfully-owned automatic
firearms in the hands of private U.S. citizens, the number of households in the
U.S., and the number of households polled, it is unlikely that even ONE such
owner would have been questioned in the course of his survey!
Hemenway did not tell a single lie in order to obfuscate the truth. By
creative use of the English language, he deliberately blurred the distinction
between fully-automatic and semi-automatic firearms, and then set out to paint
the picture of potentially murderous, machine-gun-owning problem-drinkers,
living right down the block from - or right next door to - Mr. and Mrs. Joe
Citizen, and family. That mental picture is enough to scare the pants off just
about ANY peaceable American, including gun-owners like us!
The survey instrument used by Hemenway and Richardson contained approximately
125 questions. It was conducted in the late spring, during May and June of 1994.
The key question of concern to Hemenway was:
"In the last two months, how many times have you had 5 or more alcoholic
drinks on one occasion?"
That question was casually placed third from the end of the survey.
For the moment, let us accept that Hemenway reported his statistics more
truthfully than his intentions might suggest. Let us even accept the authors'
claim that their survey demonstrates that "...owners of automatic or
semiautomatic firearms are more likely than other gun owners... to binge drink
frequently." By implying that "binge-drinker" =
"problem-drinker," Hemenway cleverly attempts to draw a damning
connection between alcohol and gun-owners, noting:
"The association between automatic or semiautomatic firearm ownership
and binge drinking is disturbing."
The authors cite literature references claiming that alcohol is "a risk
factor for violent crime and murder", and that "alcohol consumption by
a stressed individual predisposes that person to violent behavior." Any
politically-astute gun-owner could have predicted the other shoe dropping, as
"As a society, we would prefer that people who own a rapid-fire firearm
do not also engage in binge drinking, which reduces inhibitions, impairs
judgment, and increases aggressive behavior."
We can take Hemenway's insinuations about alcohol and firearm ownership one
step further, to see how really out of whack they are with reality. Wine - an
"alcoholic drink" - is part of the traditional customs in many
religions. For example, in Judaism, the Seder marks the beginning of the
observance of Passover. A Seder is conducted on the first two nights of
Passover. In the course of the Seder, participants are instructed to drink 4
cups of wine. According to Hemenway, one more glass of wine on those two
successive nights than what the Seder requires, earns any observant Jew the
label of "multiple binge-drinker!"
If Hemenway were right, after 5,000 years of "binge-drinking" at
ceremonial religious occasions, should not all the Jews have killed themselves
off - and their families, as well - with good old-fashioned knives and swords?
But that didn't happen. At the very least, then, should not the Israelis have
all killed themselves off after almost 50 years of "binge-drinking" at
ceremonial religious occasions? A good many of these multiple
"binge-drinkers" - Israeli citizen/soldiers - are in close proximity
to loaded fully-automatic firearms. That didn't happen either.
Of course, Hemenway is wrong. The myth he would have us all buy is cut from
the same fabric as another myth the anti-self-defense lobby is fond of selling,
printed most recently within the pages of the 1992 Archives of Surgery:
"The accessibility of a firearm permits the instantaneous metamorphosis
of a law-abiding person into a murderer."
The fact of the matter is that it's not guns, or knives, or swords which
predisposes one to violence, just as it's not alcohol that predisposes one to
While Hemenway hasn't deviated from the truth, he has nevertheless managed to
end up with a lie, because his "truths" are irrelevant, and out of
context. What Hemenway hasn't told us is that law-abiding gun-owners just don't
go off half-cocked, shooting up their neighbors, and everyone else in sight!
It's simply not the gun-owners in Hemenway's survey who are the ones wreaking
havoc on America. It's the unprincipled, fear-mongering medical-politicians like
David Hemenway who are guilty - by taking potshots at science, truth, and the
1. Hemenway, D., and Richardson, E; "Characteristics of Automatic or
Semiautomatic Firearm Ownership in the United States"; AJPH, Vol 87 #2, Feb
2. Kleck, Gary; private interviews 4/8/97, 5/7/97
About the Authors:
Dr. Joanne D. Eisen is engaged in the private practice of Family Dentistry.
She is President, Association of Dentists for Accuracy in Scientific Media (ADASM),
a national organization of dentists concerned with preserving the integrity of
the professional dental literature, against the politicization which has
corrupted America's medical literature.
Dr. Paul Gallant is engaged in the private practice of Family Optometry,
Wesley Hills, NY. He is Chairman, Committee for Law-Abiding Gun-Owners, Rockland
(LAGR), a 2nd Amendment grassroots group, based in Rockland County, NY.
The authors may be reached at: LAGR P.O. Box 354