Archive for the ‘Gun Control’ Category

A Protection Racket

If gun ownership makes you safer, why doesn’t the U.S. have such relatively high crime rites?

Makes you wonder if thinking gun ownership is just a protection racket doesn’t it?

Known Unknowns

firearms-and-violence1.jpgOne of the problems with discussing gun control in America is actually having a handle on what is going on. Not only are statistics often misquoted, there are few statistics that are really meaningful.

I am in the process of preparing a couple of posts discussing the change in gun control laws in England and Australia (although Snopes already beat me to it). These two countries are often used by gun control opponents as examples where outlawing guns lead to rampant increases in crime.

But while researching those articles, I ran across a wonderful online book. Entitled simply Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review and published by the National Research Council. It discusses what information is available and what it can tell us. The results are scary.

In about 300 pages, the book points out just how little is really known about the relationship between firearms and violence; or firearms and safety for that matter. Even though millions of dollars are spent each year on collecting data and researching effects, hidden and obvious, this book points out that there is surprisingly little that can be absolutely determined, including, for example, the number of guns in private ownership in America.

This book is not trying to support any given policy, either for or against gun control, but rather it tries to determine whether there is enough information available to define exactly where the problems lie and to be able to define benchmarks to determine whether a given policy works.

Published in 2004, the book covers a wide range of topics starting with measuring firearm related violence, ownership and ways to prevent illegal ownership. It continues by looking at the statistics on Defensive Gun Use (DGU) and the controversial effects of Right-to-Carry RTC laws. These two issues are extremely important being two major planks in the NRA’s lobbying techniques supporting gun ownership. Finally, the book looks at the relationship between firearms and suicide; programs designed to prevent accidental injuries caused by firearms and legal methods for reducing firearm related violence.

Interestingly there was one open academic spat in the book. The book concludes that there is little support for the theory that Right-To-Carry (RTC) laws impact crime. James Q. “Broken Windows” Wilson dissented on a portion of that claim. Wilson commented that there is evidence to support the claim that RTC laws lower murder rates. In its response, the rest of the scientific committee answered with,

In particular, the committee, including Wilson, found that “it is impossible to draw strong conclusions from the existing literature on the causal impact” of right-to-carry laws on violent and property crime in general and rape, aggravated assault, auto theft, burglary, and larceny in particular.

The only substantive issue on which the committee differed is whether the existing research supports the conclusion that right-to-carry laws substantially reduce murder. The report suggests that the scientific evidence is inconclusive. Wilson disagreed, arguing that virtually every estimate shows a substantial and statistically significant negative effect of right-to-carry laws on murder.

Now to the gossip part. It is interesting to note that one of the members of the advisory committee, Steven J Levitt was sued by John Lott Jr. for libel. Levitt commented in his book, Freakonomics that Lott’s theories hadn’t been “replicated” by other researchers. Lott took offense and when on the – um – offensive. He sued and … LOST. Oops. Lott and Levitt will be back in court in October on another issue; it will be interesting to see how that works out.

Back to gun control though; while dry, the book makes important reading for anyone willing to make serious comments about whether gun control is a good or bad thing. It helps give background on where the source for the statistics quoted in newspapers and blogs and how they are generated and what credibility they have.The book can be read online one annoying page at a time or one could actually pop to the $50 required to buy it. I chose the online variant (combined with a little programming to make my reading pleasure a bit more, um, pleasurable) .

The nice thing about the book is that it gives an excellent feel for the known unknowns. That let’s you justify or question the “knowns” you think you “know.”

Bubba – Get your gun

I’m not sure which part of this story I find more disturbing,

According to Fox News, a 10 month old baby in Illinois has been issued a Firearm Owners Identification Card.

Daily Southtown columnist Howard Ludwig registered his son —- Howard David Ludwig, nicknamed “Bubba” — online after the child’s grandfather bought him a gun shortly after the baby’s birth. Ludwig chronicled the road to gun ownership in a story that appeared in the Southtown on Sunday.

“Anyone who wants to own a firearm or purchase a firearm needs a FOID card,” Ludwig told FOX News. “I applied for one of these for my son. Now ironically he can’t buy a gun until he’s 18 years old, but if he wants to own one — which he does thanks to Grandpa — he needs one of these cards anyhow.”

The ID card, complete with a photo of the tot, allows the child to own a firearm and ammunition, and legally transport an unloaded weapon, even though Bubba has yet to learn how to walk.

Apparently this was neither a joke, nor an oversite, the father duly gave the weight and height – um – length of the new owner of a 686-model Beretta 12-guage Beretta, a birthday present from his grandfather. After a couple of hiccups (Ludwig didn’t check the citizenship box and didn’t notifiy the police that he was doing the registering), the card duely arrived.

The future NRA’s was also required to sign – well –scribble the card with some form of identifying mark.

Howard Ludwig, the proud father, does have a point though,

Really, there’s no reason why Bubba should not have a FOID card.

The program is designed to keep guns away from convicted felons, those convicted of domestic battery or domestic violence and anyone subject to an active Order of Protection.

My 10-month-old son hasn’t broken any of these rules — yet.

But why would the state police issue a FOID card to anyone younger than 18?

I called the state police, who said they followed the law as it’s written.

“There is nothing in the FOID Act or any of the rules that says anything about age restrictions,” said Lt. Scott Compton, of the Illinois State Police.

But honestly? I don’t know what bothers me more. I’m not sure whether I’m more concerned that Illinois feels 10 month old babies are appropriate firearm owners or the fact that Fox News is reporting this.

The very idea that Fox is pushing this would lead me to be believe this is a legitimate right wing idea. That is just so viscerally wrong, that I have to give the brain-dead clerk at the Illinois State PD, who issued the ID card, a pass.

Of course, perhaps the family is planing to move to Tenessee in the near future where teachers stage fake gun attacks.

Two school employees who staged a fake gun attack on a group of students during a field trip have been suspended, school officials said Monday.

During the last night of a weeklong trip to a state park, staff members convinced 69 sixth-grade students from Scales Elementary School that there was a gunman on the loose. One official has said the exercise was intended as a teaching tool.

At least Bubba would have been able to show them teachers a thang or two!

(Hat Tip: Wonkette)

Mea Culpa

Hi Tom*,

I would like to apologize for coming into your blog, calling names and starting a fight. Basic decency should have held my hand. Again, I’m sorry.

Before you explode again, I beg you to perhaps give me a moment (well – several hundred words) to explain why I responded to your remark “Why, during this day and age (i.e. post 9/11) are we allowing someone who is less than a full citizen to purchase firearms? Any politician with half a lick of sense should strike while the iron is hot on this one,” with the comment “It’s just – sorry – just so racist.”

I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree about the racism thing which is why I’m doing this here and not directly posting it to your comments. Perhaps I am also posting it here to show my readers that, yes, sometimes, I am scum. If you would like to delete the link in your comments (and perhaps ridicule this), that would be fine. I think it should be your choice. I shall not return.

I think our problem is largely a matter of definition and perspective.

When I say you are supporting racist positions, it most definitely does not mean that I think you think or scream racial epithets at individuals; I don’t think you, personally discriminate against anyone specifically. That is what I tried to convey by saying that you are not personally racist. I think it very likely that you treat every individual you meet fairly and equally. I suspect you are fine at a personal level.

Unfortunately, I think you harbor a much more insidious type of racism; not hate based on race and not hate directed at individuals, but irrationally based fear directed at over-generalized groups. I suspect you fear a nebulous “they,” who are a threat to America and the world. Perhaps you are right; you think it is rational – I call it racist.

I am an American and have lived abroad for the past twenty years. I have seen enough cultures and enough peoples that I can no longer see the world through a “them” filter because “they” are always just over the hill or across the border. And I have also been “them”– both abroad and in America so I understand the issue from both sides.

Your question about limiting firearm ownership to full citizens reminds me of Americans who ask “Why do people in the rest of the world hate Americans?” Well Tom, apparently the mistrust is mutual. I have also seen first hand how international opinion has turned not only again American policies but against Americans individually (see also the PEW Report from 2006). Based on your reaction, you feel your mistrust is well founded. Just as you probably think the rest of the world is wrong in being sceptical of American citizens. Perhaps they simply fear you without any real evidence but they know they are right in doing so. Just as you know you are right about “foreigners.”

To me your position bears no difference to theirs and is no different than the positions of so many before you who feared outsiders.

Think back on American history. “They” have been, at different times, the Latinos (1980s-2000s), the Russians (50’s to 80’s), the Japanese (30’s and 40’s) and the Germans (1917-1940’s). As a matter of fact, if you go back far enough, it was the Irish and the Italians. You might not know it, but the first car bomb in history, well wagon bomb, was detonated 1920 in New York by Mario Buda, an Italian anarchist. The Irish were the criminal scourge of the late 19th century – or at least many thought so. Americans no longer fear the Irish or the Italians. They no longer fear Germans, Japanese or the Russians (most of the time).

Have these people, these nationalities as individuals changed so much in such a short time? Are “they” just suddenly nice, law-abiding, America-loving peoples? Or has the focus of fear shifted? I think it is the latter.

You write of being “most concerned about Middle Eastern immigrants” – a euphemism I take to mean Arabs and Persians as you are probably not too concerned about the Israelis. Right? Interestingly the statistics you quoted me from the Small Arms Digest (pg 178) would seem to show a disproportionate threat emanating from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa with the Middle East a distant fourth. But I’m sure you knew that, you read your sources thoroughly. So, are you concerned about the Arabs and Persians because of facts or because of a racial, political or a religious traits?

If it is racial – I rest my case. QED

If it is political, doesn’t your policy punish those who believe in democracy and flee to America because they think it is a better place; those who come to America for freedom not oppression? Doesn’t your policy give evidence to those who would claim that Americans arbitrarily discriminate against outsiders for no other reason than the fact that they are not American? Doesn’t your prejudice feed the al Quada propaganda machine as well as any terrorist success?

If it is religion, then you can’t really stop in the Middle East but must keep a close eye on those pesky Indonesians and those Muslims with European passports now spreading across the continent. You also need to be worried about the 1-2 percent of your neighbors who hold both the Islamic faith and the American citizenship. (But the last group poses a bit of a problem justifying the green card prohibition – right?) Of course, hating and mistrusting people because of their religion has deep roots. You are, perhaps, better able to understand the deep rooted mistrust of Protestants since your return from Ireland. Or was it the Catholics? Strange thing who “they” can be, huh?

I have my own fears Tom. I fear those who feel that there is an indefinable group to be dreaded. Specifically – I fear people like you.

Those who fear are almost worse than those who overtly hate; those openly doing the lynching and the killing. Those who fear but do not hate are the ones who honestly disapprove of the deeds but quietly understand the reasoning and silently applaud the results.

It is not usually those who explicitly hate that scare me; they are often easily identifiable. They are the blackshirts, the skinheads, the white-sheeted bigots. They are the Hitlers, the bin Ladens, the Ahmednejads. Even if you can’t immediately stop them, you at least know who they are.

Unfortunately, true power is not in hands of those people who hate and lead but in those who fear and follow.

It is those that fear. It is those that feared the Blacks, and the Mexicans and the Asians. It is those that feared the Jews; and the Catholics; and the Protestants. And now, it is those that fear the Muslims. And those that fear Americans. It is that fear that feeds hate.

You would prohibit those who have green cards from legally owning a weapon because you fear the consequences. I ask again, do you fear the German engineer, the Vietnamese cook, the Brazilian model or the South African ‘security expert’; the ones living next to the marginally medicated American with the .357 Magnum and a borderline disorder? Are they the problem? I’m sure permanent residents in the American military are among those you would disarm. Are they to be feared? Were these the mental images of “someone who is less than a full citizen” you conjured up when writing the post? If not, why not?

Seen in that light, was my reaction to your comment about denying gun ownership to those un-Americans with green cards that out-of-line? Using my perspective, my definition, would you consider what you proposed racist? Or is it just nationalist – excuse me – patriotic? Or would you say rational?

I feel you have yet to show me valid data supporting your hypothesis. No, a list pulled from Wikipedia is not valid data. And no, I don’t need to invalidate what you are saying because you have not shown any real evidence other than a gut reaction and the ancient idea of racial profiling. You see reams of evidence; I see media hysteria, smoke and mirrors. You urge a call to action; I see overreaction. Again, we will simply have to agree to disagree here.

I suspect we could argue statistics until we are blue in the face and never get anywhere. I would argue the statistics either don’t exist or are not openly available. I would nevertheless look to the centralized data from the FBI, collected and collated from information provided by local law enforcement agencies, for some statistical guidelines to evaluate the numbers you present. You seemed to think your idea was obvious. You fail to realise that if your idea is obvious, the data supporting it should be obvious too. It is not. In the end, neither of us would win but each would probably lose both tempers and time.

Outlawing gun-ownership to a minimal percentage of the people living in America would have zero effect on violence because there will always be enough weapons available for sale; those who want firearms will get them. That is why I found your idea so preposterous. In addition, arbitrarily determining that anyone without American citizenship (or merely “Middle Eastern”) is a public danger is preposterously unfair.

Perhaps after reading this you will understand why I labelled your idea racist.

Remember my response was based as much on fear as on distaste. You might chalk it up to my own particular brand of racism – regardless of color, creed or religion; a visceral mistrust of those that needlessly, irrationally fear.

Perhaps, in light of the fact that my definition of racism and racist thinking includes racial profiling, you might go back and reread your final comment. Was it rational or does it fit my definition of racist?

My parting shot Tom? You were spot on in calling me an SOB.

Not because we disagree. That’s fine. I suspect our definitions and perspectives vary; I suspect I have a much thinner skin on many issues. Nevertheless, I think we could find things about which to agree.

No, you were spot on calling me an SOB because I walked into your house – uninvited and unknown – and I started spouting invectives. It was inexcusable and you were right to call me on it.

Again; it was your blog; my misstep – my bad – my apologies.

Have a nice day.
Ben (the bad one)

[* I’m posting this here because I did the inexcusable – the internet equivalent of a drive by shooting, I think I overstepped the line at a strange blog, commenting and throwing invectives. I feel it is my duty to air my dirty laundry on my time, my bandwidth. His blog has seen enough.

I hope the person I have offended chooses to read this and not to delete the link to it. If not, I have complete understanding. I will not link to his blog because this disagreement is so totally different from the issues he discusses; I suspect the traffic drawn would be unwarranted and largely uninterested in his normal issues.

This is merely an open, personal mea culpa.]


I have been spending a lot of time recently looking into gun control because I have been planning to do a number of posts on the issue.

As always I try approach the issue with an international perspective. I attempt to look at the effects of individual laws in the various countries can have on crime. Mass shootings, while relatively rare, do have a tendency to acerbate public opinion.

In a macabre coincidence spent, spend my weekend reading the official inquiry into a another school shooting. Not Columbine, Dunblane, Scottland.

A massacre largely forgotten in the uniquely myopic American psyche, the Dunblane massacre shifted public opinion in England about the ownership of hand guns; the ownership of handguns for any reason, including sport shooting.

On March 13, 1996, Thomas Hamilton walked into the Dunblane Primary School armed with two 9mm semi-automatic pistols and two .357 Smith & Wesson revolvers. He entered the gym and began targeting children and teachers. By the time he had finished shooting, a total of 16 children and one teacher lay dead or dying, another 15 were wounded, 6 of those with very serious wounds.

After shooting the class, Thomas Hamilton used one of the .357 Magnums to kill himself.

Much of the official report centers on two issues: Hamilton’s homosexual, paedophilic tendencies coupled with a feeling of paranoia and Hamilton’s legal ownership of a relatively large number of handguns. As noted in the report the first issue was unrelated to the second.

Despite what gun lobbyists might contend, the resulting hand gun control didn’t change England from being a country where gun ownership was as widespread as America to a self-defense wasteland. At the time of the shooting, it was already very difficult to purchase and own handguns. Only people with either a professional or a legitimate sporting interest could own guns and there was absolutely no wide spread ownership; nothing like the roughly 50% coverage found in America.

The shooting caused England to go through a very difficult time of soul searching. The eventual reaction was drastic. An almost complete ban on private ownership of firearms including air pistols and crossbows. Indeed, the regulations are so drastic that a special dispensation has become necessary to allow shooting events during the upcoming Olympic games to be held in 2012 and the English Olympic team must train outside the country.

To date it is not completely clear how effective these measures have been. While there haven’t been any massacres in the United Kingdom since 1996, there had been only one in the 10 years proceeding Dunblane. People running amok in England is not a common thing.

Probably even less well known in the English speaking world is the 2002 Erfurt massacre. The shooter, Robert Steinhäuser walked into a high school with a 9mm handgun and a pump action shotgun (which he didn’t use). By the time the shooting stopped, Steinhäuser lay dead of his own hand afer having killed 17 people. Again, both weapons were legally licensed in a country where mass ownership of weapons is rare. Again the incident caused widespread worry, discussion and debate about the ownership of guns. Ultimately little changed.

Do I thing hand gun control would be a good thing. Yes. Would it have prevented Dunblane, Columbine, Erfurt or any of the other terrible catastrophes that have happened around the world. Probably not.

But as schizophrenic as it may sound, I don’t think stopping massacres would or should be the goal of hand gun control. I don’t think they will have that much effect.

The area where handgun control might be effective would be in lowering everyday crime rates, in changing the feeling in some cities about whether it is save to walk the streets. It is about lowering the total number and thus the availability of concealable weapons. In lowering the number of accidental shootings in the home. In lowering the number of chldren shot when an adult doesn’t properly handle a firearm – for whatever reason.

If you worked in a hospital and there were large numbers of used needles laying about, you wouldn’t look at buying more needles to cure the resultant infections. You would purchase a sharps container to get rid of the needles causing the problems.

For those Americans who think that the ownership of weapons is an inalienable human right need to think about what is going on in Iraq today. American soldiers search house after house searching for weapons; searching for weapons the Iraqis use against the foreigners who have invaded their country. Homeland defense is of the biggest selling points of the NRA and one of the major problems for the American military. Which right is higher, Americas right to carry democracy to every corner of the globe or the individuals right to protect home and family?So yes. I think gun control and registration is necessary. I think it would lower crime rates in America.

But while I fully believe gun control and legislation is a good thing, I don’t think America can get there from here. It is impossible to get all the weapons off the streets – legal or otherwise. It is a social trap that America fell into for social and historical reasons. I doubt it be changed.

So try to keep that in mind while the lobbyists from antigun control and gun control sides scream about whether gun control is necessary or would help. Visions are good, but visions got America into Iraq. Don’t look at the vision, look at the reality.

Don’t ask whether gun control is good, think about whether gun control is possible.

The Tale of the Two Millers

Today I’d like to tell two very sad tales, stories about suicide. One paints a very sad picture, the other, only half of one.The first story is about a depressed teenager.

In 1997, Matt Miller, a 13 year old started having behavioural problems; his grades dropped, he was banging his head against his locker at school, he began urinating on the bathroom floor. His parents, alerted to the problem by school officials, took him to an adolescent psychiatrist who diagnosed an unspecified depression. Since the boy did not show improvement after three weeks, the psychiatrist prescribed the anti-depressant Zoloft, a so called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). A week later the young man committed suicide by hanging himself.

The parents suspected the medication played an important role in their son’s death and sued the maker of the antidepressant – pharma giant Pfizer. They enrolled the help of an expert witness, Dr. David Healy. Healy had studied the effects of SSRIs on individuals not suffering from depression and reported that a few had reacted with obsessive suicidal thoughts. Pfizer’s counsel argued that Healy’s testimony not be admitted because it did not meet the so called Daubert standards requiring judges to act as gatekeepers in the case of expert testimony and requiring evidence to have won “widespread acceptance” in professional circles. (This is the same standard defendants in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case attempted to use in order to prevent Barbara Forrest from testifying. They failed and her testimony later proved damning to the Intelligent Design case.)

The second Miller story is not about someone who committed suicide, but someone studying it. Dr. Matthew Miller is the Associate Director of Harvard Injury Control Research Center and does research into methods for preventing suicide.

In a study appearing in the April issue of The Journal of Trauma, Miller is presenting his research into the correlation between the presence of firearms in households and suicide rates.

In the first nationally representative study to examine the relationship between survey measures of household firearm ownership and state level rates of suicide in the U.S., researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found that suicide rates among children, women and men of all ages are higher in states where more households have guns. The study appears in the April 2007 issue of The Journal of Trauma.

“We found that where there are more guns, there are more suicides,” said Matthew Miller, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at HSPH and lead author of the study.

Suicide ranks as one of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S.; among persons less than 45 years old, it is one of the top three causes of death. In 2004, more than half of the 32,439 Americans who committed suicide used a firearm.

It should also be noted that there are more suicides in America per year than murders. It is clear that this study will be used by gun control lobbies to argue for more restrictions and attacked by firearm lobbies for being flawed.

While I am highly sceptical of handgun ownership, my alarm bells started ringing while reading the article describing the study. I got more suspicious when I read the summary,

The researchers recommend that firearm owners take steps to make their homes safer. “Removing all firearms from one’s home is one of the most effective and straightforward steps that household decision-makers can take to reduce the risk of suicide,” says Miller. “Removing firearms may be especially effective in reducing the risk of suicide among adolescents and other potentially impulsive members of their home. Short of removing all firearms, the next best thing is to make sure that all guns in homes are very securely locked up and stored separately from secured ammunition. In a nation where more than half of all suicides are gun suicides and where more than one in three homes have firearms, one cannot talk about suicide without talking about guns,” he adds.

Laudable sentiments all. But they only tell half the story.

You see, worldwide, America stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world with respect to access to firearms. There are many studies showing a strong correlation between the number of suicides, homicides and accidents using firearms. Unfortunately these studies usually don’t tell everything.

Let’s compare the data between Germany and the US. Germany requires firearms to be registered and gun owners to be licensed, both practices are handled in a patchwork fashion in the US. With only 8.9 percent of the households having firearms, Germany had a rate of 1.44 unintentional deaths by firearm per 100,000 residents (0.21 murders and 1.23 suicides) . During a similar reporting period, the US boasted a whopping 41 percent coverage of firearm availability with 13.47 firearm related deaths per 100,000 (6.24 murders, 7.23 suicides). This looks damning.

I would agree that data does point to a correlation between firearm availability and a direct increase in homicides. I think that is the paradox of the NRA argument of keeping weapons to defend oneself.

But if one concentrates on suicides, the picture changes. Let’s look at the overall suicide rate for the two countries. The US has a lower overall suicide rate than Germany (21.7 to 27.4 per 100,000).

Thus it would seem that any strong correlation between firearm ownership and suicide rates isn’t valid. What is valid is that if firearms are available, they will be used as the preferred method; but there are many, many ways to kill yourself.

So, even though I truly believe Dr. Miller’s heart is in the right place, I don’t trust his research. And any attorney attempting to use it in court will probably fail against an analysis similar to mine. Which brings me back to the first story.

Having research that only shows one side of an issue is one of the things that led to the creation of the Daubert standards. In the case of the suicide of Matt Miller the judge asked for help. According to the excellent Nation article about this,

To help evaluate Healy’s research, US District Court Judge Kathryn Vratil appointed two independent experts, Yale epidemiologist John Concato and University of Illinois psychiatrist John Davis, to answer her questions. “I had envisioned a freewheeling scientist-to-scientist dialogue,” says Vickery, the Millers’ attorney. Vratil, an appointee of the first President Bush, had other ideas: To avoid any appearance of bias, she barred the experts from talking with Healy or any other witness as they prepared their findings.

In their report, the two men called Healy an “accomplished investigator.” But they also said Healy’s methodology “has not been accepted in the relevant scientific community” and that the psychopharmacologist holds a “minority view” about SSRIs and suicidality. Agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they noted, had found no such relationship.
In February 2002, Judge Vratil issued her key rulings in Miller v. Pfizer. “Dr. Healy is an accomplished researcher,” she wrote, “and his credentials are not in dispute.” But his belief in the SSRI-suicide link is a “distinctly minority view,” she added, and the flaws in his methodology “are glaring, overwhelming, and unexplained.” With that, Vratil rejected Healy as an expert witness–and dismissed the lawsuit against Pfizer. The Millers appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which in October 2004 rejected their petition for a hearing.

It would seem that the minority opinion lost the day, a single researcher reading too much into the data. It would seem that Dr. Healy is analogous to Dr. Miller. Both had valid claims but were overreaching.

Dr. Miller correctly points out that the number of suicides using firearms is directly correlated to the number of firearms available. That does not lead however to the result that lowering the number of firearms will directly lower the number of suicides. If that were true, Germany should have a much lower rate of suicide than America indeed one would expect a dramatic drop. We don’t see that.

Dr. Healy looked at the data and worried about people being severely damaged by the very treatment meant to save them. Other researchers argued he was wrong. Perhaps the saddest factor in this story is that Dr. Healy was likely right. Returning to the Nation article

In April 2006 the drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline disclosed that adults with major depression were almost seven times more likely to attempt suicide after taking the SSRI Paxil than after taking a placebo, although these events were rare. In November an FDA analysis of 372 clinical trials, involving almost 100,000 patients, revealed a twofold risk of suicidal behavior for adults under 25 who took SSRIs. To those who share David Healy’s views, the latest research is an affirmation–too late for the Millers but perhaps early enough to avert future tragedies. “I believe it vindicates Healy in a major way,” says Antonuccio, the Nevada professor. “Here mainstream scientists are saying, Yes, these antidepressants cause suicidality–which is what Healy has been saying all along.”

So perhaps there is a more important moral here.

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter whether the science is right or wrong. Sometimes it might be better to err on the side of safety – licensing and regulating guns on the one hand and strictly controlling the use of SSRIs on the other.

But for many this kind of pragmatic solution comes too late and at a much too high a price; the high price of legal fees, lobbyists – and lives.