A key federal agency worked with gun control advocates to bury a study that showed law-abiding firearms owners use them to protect themselves millions of times per year, according to a report.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deleted a reference to the study, which it had commissioned, after gun-control advocates said it made passing new gun laws more difficult. The pro-Second Amendment site The Reload reported that the White House and powerful Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin helped arrange a series of meetings at which the gun control advocates convinced the agency to hide the study.
“[T]hat 2.5 Million number needs to be killed, buried, dug up, killed again and buried again,” Mark Bryant, head of the Gun Violence Archive, wrote to CDC officials after a meeting. “It is highly misleading, is used out of context and I honestly believe it has zero value – even as an outlier point in honest DGU discussions.”
Update: The CDC never actually sent @teamtrace the statement it drafted in response to the publication's initial inquiry about the agency's decision to change the language on its website about defensive gun use and the lobbying campaign behind it. https://t.co/24igo5iePL
— The Reload (@TheReloadSite) December 29, 2022
Bryant’s email was one of a handful obtained by The Reload which illustrate how gun control lobbyists were triggered by the study by Florida State University Criminology Professor Gary Kleck. That study was one of several the CDC reviewed on defensive gun uses. Kleck’s findings represented the upper end of estimates for how many times lawful gun owners defended themselves.
Bryant complained that Kleck’s estimate was “misinformation” and should be eliminated from the CDC’s website because gun-rights advocates were using it as ammunition for their Second Amendment arguments.
The CDC initially stood by the study and listed it in the “Fast Facts: Firearm Violence Prevention” portion of its website. But after a September 15, 2021, virtual meeting with gun control advocates, the agency assured them it would revise the section in 2022, according to a December 10, 2021, email obtained by The Reload.
“We are planning to update the fact sheet in early 2022 after the release of some new data,” Beth Reimels, associate director for policy, partnerships, and strategic communication at the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention, wrote in the email. “We will also make some edits to the content we discussed that I think will address the concerns you and other partners have raised.”
In 2022, references to studies involving defensive gun use were scrubbed from the site.
“Estimates of defensive gun use vary depending on the questions asked, populations studied, timeframe, and other factors related to study design,” the site now states. “Given the wide variability in estimates, additional research is necessary to understand defensive gun use prevalence, frequency, circumstances, and outcomes.”
The CDC did not respond to The Reload’s request for comment on the decision. Durbin spokeswoman Emily Hampsten told the site her boss’s only involvement was “simply connecting” “stakeholder organizations” with a federal agency.
Kleck called the decision “blatant censorship” meant to skew the debate over gun rights.
“You can’t understand any significant aspects of the gun-control debate once you eliminate defensive gun use,” said Kleck, professor emeritus at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “It becomes inexplicable why so many Americans oppose otherwise perfectly reasonable gun-control measurements. It’s because they think it’s going to lead to prohibition, and they won’t have a gun for self-defense.”
“It’s not complicated,” added Kleck, who said it was the latest example of how the CDC has become politicized.
The CDC’s decision to remove all estimates on defensive gun uses was first reported by The Trace, a pro-gun control site that disputed Kleck’s scholarship. The emails cited by The Reload were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed on behalf of the California Rifle & Pistol Association.
Bryant’s group is one of several gun control advocacy organizations that have used a broad definition of “mass shootings” to portray them as extremely common in the U.S. Under their terms, a mass shooting occurs any time four or more people are at least injured in an incident involving firearms. By that count, mass shootings happen 10 times as often as the more standard definition requiring four or more fatalities.
But when it comes to defining defensive gun use incidents, Gun Violence Archive uses decidedly conservative criteria, counting only those incidents that appear in media or police reports. By their yardstick, Gun Violence Archive estimates there are less than 2,000 cases of defensive gun use per year.
The CDC sought to explain its decision to remove defensive gun use statistics from its fact sheet in a response to a query from the Trace that it ultimately never sent. In it, the CDC said the fact that the range of estimates was so vast that including them might “raise more questions than it answered.”