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 considerthisbyjd.com
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