Thursday, December 2, 2010

Josh Sugermann's misleading suicide article in Huffington Post

Josh Sugermann, a leading gun ban advocate and federally licensed D.C. gun dealer, published yesterday in the Huffington Post what is perhaps his most misleading article to date. And that's saying a lot, given his record.

He cited two figures - the crude suicide rate of all Michigan residents (11.7 per 100,000) and the crude suicide rate of Michigan concealed carry licensees (17.6 per 100,000). He concludes, without any further analysis, that "Michigan concealed handgun license holders have a higher rate of suicide than the state's general population."

This statement, implying that guns cause suicide and therefore should be banned, is so misleading because it compares an outcome between two very different groups. If, and only if, the characteristics of the populations being compared are the same, can one make a valid analysis like this. 

CCW holders in Michigan are not like the general population in Michigan.  A few obvious reasons include:
  • CCW holders are at least 21 years old, while the general public includes children and teens.
  • CCW holders are overwhelmingly male, while the overall population is half male. 
  • Veterans are overrepresented in the CCW group compared with the overall population.
Differences like these are what make the crude suicide rate higher for CCW people - but that in itself doesn't mean anything.  The difference is caused by confounding factors, determinants that have nothing whatsoever to do with gun ownership. This is why it is so disingenuous for Sugermann to link CCW with suicide - the two have little to do with each other.  He knows this, yet he puts the lie out there for people who don't know any better.

What would be a valid comparison? Here's a start: comparing two samples of adult males with similar demographic characteristics, one sample being non gun owners, the other being CCW holders. I'm not sure if the Michigan data Sugermann cites have this granularity, but we do know that Michigan males 20 years and older have a suicide rate of 20 per 100,000, lower than the CCW population. This is a good preliminary indication that men who lawfully carry are actually at less risk of suicide.

Josh Sugermann runs the VPC, an organization funded solely by the Joyce Foundation and that has zero popular financial support. He publishes garbage like this to get headlines and keep the money coming in.  It seems to me by the tone of his recent articles that he's more or less given up at this point, that he really doesn't have the fire under his butt anymore.  Is this really the best he can do? 

I'm also amazed that Sugermann gets media exposure for this article. It would be as if he wrote the article "People admitted to hospital in past year face greater risk of death," and newspaper editors and websites published it as serious analysis.  His suicide comparison is no less absurd.

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