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2Jan 2013

Gun commentaries in New England Journal get scant coverage.

Immediately after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Ct., I called on science reporters to take on the job of reporting the facts on gun violence, including what is known from research about the dangers of guns and how to reduce them.

A good opportunity to write about research on gun control arose on Dec. 28, when the New England Journal of Medicine published three commentaries on the legacy of gun violence, preventing gun deaths, and the risks of violence in the mentally ill. These were commentaries, not research articles, but they offered leads for further reporting on gun research.

Yet they received scant coverage. Most news organizations ignored them. In a Boston Globe blog post on what's ahead in medicine this year, a reference to one of the gun-control commentaries was the fifth item in a list of five. 

Science reporters are not entirely to blame for the lack of coverage of these potentially interesting and useful commentaries. The New England Journal inexplicably chose to publish them on the Friday before the four-day New Year's holiday. That's typically when politicians release things they don't want their constituents to see. Was the journal intent on burying these commentaries? Could the long arm of the NRA have reached the journal's editors and demanded that they suppress the commentaries? It's hard to argue that the New England Journal didn't know what it was doing; it's the most covered medical journal in the world.

What was lost, however, was a peg that science reporters could have used to write about gun-control research. Perhaps this is a sign that interest in gun-control is already waning, less than a month after the Newtown shootings.

-Paul Raeburn

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