Congress backs down on gun violence studies

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After 23 massacres since 2007, where 202 people were murdered with guns, we still know little about gun violence. Why? Because Congress cowers to the NRA and won’t fund gun violence studies.

The entity best suited for this work, the Centers for Disease Control, is precluded by law from analyzing gun deaths. In a 1996 appropriations bill (at page 245, if you care to check) is a line that reads, “That none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Though this language may be ambiguous, it has instilled fear at the CDC. No one is willing to risk his career by conducting gun-related research. And, of course, there’s no funding from Congress.

Congress went one step better in 2007 by passing the Tiahrt Amendment, which significantly limits when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms can release trace data for firearms and information concerning multiple handgun sales. Though the amendment was loosened somewhat in 2010, it still impedes studying the flow of handguns. The law’s apparent purpose was to protect gun manufacturers and gun dealers from civil liability.

Only by studying a problem can we learn. Look at the Navy and the exacting investigation it undertakes with every plane crash. What was the weather when the pilot was briefed?  What was the weather went the plane went down?  How must rest did the pilot have? How much experience did he have? What was the plane’s maintenance record?  Were proper emergency procedures followed?

An investigation begins with what happened even before the pilot manned his plane. Every fact in the chain of events comes under scrutiny. Root cause analysis provides the means to learn where a breakdown occurred, so that the entire aviation community could learn and not repeat the same mistakes.

What do we do after a serial killing? We wring our hands and say things like, “The shooter was deranged.”  “He acquired all 14 guns legally.” “We need better gun control.”  “This is a mental health issue.” And then we do nothing and wait for the next shooting.

What if we were to look way back into the life of the Umpqua Community College shooter with the same zeal the Navy displays when investigating a plane crash? What if we were to study the flow of guns and personal histories of the shooters involved in gangland shootings?  What about investigating the commonalities behind the accidental shootings of children?  What might happen if we chose to be proactive?

But our leadership is anything but proactive. Instead, we hear—from former Governor Mike Huckabee, for example—that the Umpqua College massacre wouldn’t have happened if the other students had guns. Better yet was former Governor Jeb Bush’s comment, “Stuff happens.” Really? This is the best that two presidential candidates can offer?  Either be reactive and arm more citizens or just accept the status quo. What about eliminating the sources behind gun violence?

Because it fears the NRA, Congress won’t mandate that gun deaths be studied. Not only is the NRA a serious source of campaign funds, but its members act with rage when dealing with anyone who doesn’t believe in unfettered gun rights. Too bad. I know what it’s like to be publicly derided by hardline gun advocates. I expect members of Congress to take the heat and do the right thing.

The problem is huge. In an article published in the New York Times last week, Columnist Nicholas Kristoff maintains that we’ve had 1.45 million gun deaths in America since 1970. Is that possible? Maybe.

In 2013 alone (the most current statistics available from the FBI), we had 8454 gun murders, a five-year low. That same year, we had 21,175 gun suicides (as reported by the CDC). In 2010 (the most current statistics available from the Children’s Defense Fund), 134 children and teens were accidentally killed by guns. That makes for 29,763 gun deaths in one year.

What to do? First, stop using the term “gun control.”  It’s a polarizing term. For hardline gun advocates, it evokes images of guns being confiscated. We should be talking about “gun policy.” The goal isn’t to infringe on the Second Amendment but to minimize gun deaths.

Second, let’s get serious about finding real answers. Right now, everyone is guessing. Hillary Clinton says we need expanded background checks. After the Sandy Hook massacre, there was talk about prohibiting assault rifles. There’s talk about gun control, but what is gun control, besides a nebulous term that creates backlash? Without studying the various forms of gun violence—serial killings, spousal murders, gangland violence, etc.—ideas to reduce gun violence are just guesswork, which plays into the hands of the NRA and makes for easy criticism

It’s not about guns. It’s about ending gun violence. Congress, get to it and let’s start studying gun violence.


Jack D’Aurora writes for


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  1. Bruce Lackey  October 7, 2015

    A failure of leadership at the national level.

    I posted this article to my Facebook page to troll for rebuttal from my conservative friends.

  2. Jim Meaney  October 7, 2015

    Hear, hear Jack! Perhaps, to go along with this we will need a new composition in the Supreme Court. Do you think a Republican president will consider that when appointing the next SC Justice?

  3. Brian Murphy  October 7, 2015

    Thanks, Jack, for the plea for congressional action. My sad belief is that this problem will not yield to congressional action as our elected officials remain safely on the fence on anything to do with guns. I wholeheartedly agree that rigorous investigation is needed. You touched on extending this investigation into the realm of mental health and that is where I think we might see progress. Each mass shooting incident – and especially the shooter himself (always a him) – should receive the sort of unflinching, data-driven analysis that we have witnessed can yield so much critical insight into pressing social issues. Then, apply that insight by studying communications and any other data generated by the communications and behaviors of the at-risk population: young men between about 12 and 30. Rigorous application of data analysis methods will yield a group of particularly worrisome young men. The tough question is, once we have identified a person of concern, how can we intercede to prevent the next incident? Can we empower our judges to issue orders? I need the lawyer to take over from here.

    • miriam rafferty  October 8, 2015

      Spot on Jack. I did not know that CDC was not able by law to research gun deaths which I believe is necessary. I do agree also with Brian in that we need to spend money and time researching the data on each killer to identify the risk population and also triggers or characteristics that intervention specialists would need to know. Ben Carson proposes this. Just like we identify risk of disease, we then promote education to prevent it.

      Let’s face it. There are extremely evil and intelligent people out there that know how to beat the system. Just look at the death tolls in major cities with high crime rates such as Chicago. The deaths there are from illegal guns not NRA guns. I don’t hear the media talking about those deaths or our president. So how does any proposed legislation help prevent the numerous deaths in those populations?

      Why not put the energy towards isolating potential killers? The background checks sounds like it may cut down on gun deaths but how does the HIPPA laws work for this? Will a psychiatric record be on file for a background check? In addition, some of these killers such as the one in Oregon, did not have a psychiatric record.

      The mentally ill in this country are not getting attention that is necessary. Federal funding is deficient and I guess compared to 30 years ago we are doing better. But, from experience, I see the mentally ill getting discharged too early and some are isolated without getting the psychiatric help they need which puts our society at risk with or without gun control.

  4. jay sumner  October 9, 2015

    Almost, Jack, almost. No argument with your basic points although as one who has sworn to support and defend the constitution, I suspect I might ultimately disagree with you on gun control. But you are spot on w/r/t pulling the thread on the ‘why?’. But I would not stop it at gun violence; how about violence in general? The mental health thread certainly resonates with many, but pull on that thread a bit more to find out why all these 13-32 year olds are so pissed, not just that they are and that the mental health system in letting them down. That drives us to the early notion that the solution is just more money. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

    Even if we had the kind of gun control many on the left champion, then bad people are still going to figure out how to kill people. In my work in the IED world I can attest to the creativity people with no education can assemble. Another issue that raises my eyebrow is why certain cities (Chicago, DC) that have essentially outlawed guns, still have such a problem. Of course you are right in that keeping people from acquiring legal guns does not prevent them from acquiring illegal ones- case in point to my IED analogy.

    I’d also like to see some unbiased data on exactly how much money (and to whom) the NRA coffers lay out each election cycle. It seems as if they are onerous, but I’d love the data which supports the contention that lawmakers lie down every time Wayne LaPierre picks up the phone. I would simply like to be able to expose lawmakers that vote under that kind of pressure (which I do not have a hard time believing) so that I can rule out those who are truly voting their conscience.

    What I find truly disgusting about this country and its politics is the absolute unwillingness by those with extreme views, the so-called hard-liners, to negotiate. This polarization gets mimicked by the populace and we end up with what I think is ‘election cycles of extremes’. Without slamming anyone (so as to keep the conversation on an academic level) that is why I think Trump is so popular and why political figures on the left have been so, too (Bernie Sanders).

    So maybe the ‘real’ root-cause is , as you suggest in your first paragraph, a political one. If so, how about we seek a grass roots movement to better choose our representatives? How about we dock their pay for every vote they fail to make? How about we dock their pay (writ large) if they fail to pass an annual budget? How about we hit them in the same pocketbook that hits us when we fail to perform?

    •  October 11, 2015

      I’ll take getting it “almost” right as a compliment. So, thank you. Let’s address a few issues you raise.

      You question my patriotism (in a polite way) because I advocate gun control, but I didn’t say anything about gun control. Forgive me for being so direct, but I sense you jumped to a conclusion, presumably because of what you anticipate I had in mind. Gun control is a vague topic (what does it really mean?) that all too often sparks backlash. I try to stay away from it for the reason illustrated by your reply.

      If you want to see who’s getting the gun money, go to, and you can see who is receiving what money from whom. It’s an eye-opener.

      As to keeping guns out of the hands of bad guys, you’re right, the bad guys will always figure out a way to beat the system. But if were to make an honest effort in that regard, don’t you think we could at least make a dent in the flow in of illegal arms without infringing on the Second Amendment?

      Last point: I agree. The polarization of politics is killing America, and there are two things that promote it: unlimited money in politics (which is impossible to remedy without a constitutional amendment) and gerrymandering of voting districts.

      Really glad to see you reading my blog and commenting.

      • Jay Sumner  October 26, 2015

        Just now got to this. One bone of contention. I do not, in ANY WAY question your patriotism. In fact, I applaud it. If I wanted to question it, I would have made it as clear as Bernie Sanders is on free college, and Donald Trump on immigration. I’m sorry if my post inferred that.
        I did assume you were/are a proponent of some sort of action related to gun control and I do not think, while still an assumption, it is a wild one. And I did couch my response re: gun control by stating that you and I ‘might’ disagree on that broad (yes you are right, it’s so broad and has become a slogan) topic.
        Thanks for the link. I look forward to perusing that data. 🙂 time to ‘call-out’ the unscrupulous officials, no?

        •  October 26, 2015

          “Gun control” is a horrible phrase because it’s ambiguous and conjures up images of citizens losing their right to own guns. Let’ talk, instead, about what type of gun policies we need to reduce gun deaths. I think we can reduce guns deaths without infringing on a citizens’ right to own a gun. Don’t you?


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