The Sandy Hook school massacre has inspired a movement for more effective gun control. That has in turn generated a backlash of gun advocates calling for more guns, not fewer: armed teachers, concealed carry everywhere, and booming sales for guns that might become illegal. Each side claims this would dramatically reduce injuries and death from gun violence, and points to anecdotes to support the claim.
With all the differences in laws across states and cities, you’d think there might be evidence to support or refute these claims. But the NRA has lobbied maniacally and successfully to block federal funding and research to determine the effectiveness of gun control policies. For almost 20 years, research funding has come from just a few foundations. Read on to learn more.
Firearm violence is a public health problem that causes more than 30,000 deaths per year, about the same number as deaths from traffic accidents. The US spends substantial sums on research to improve traffic safety – more than $60 million for fiscal year 2012. The results are used to improve both automobile design and traffic regulations. Yet essentially nothing is spent on research on ways to decrease firearm injuries and deaths. Why?
Back in 1996, NRA lobbyists succeeded in cutting funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and inserting language into the appropriations bill that said that no federal funds could be spent, “in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.” Practically speaking, that has meant that no funds are allocated for research on the effectiveness of any public policy that might reduce harm, because those studies just might demonstrate that gun control works.
My profession is medical research. I’ve been in this field for 40 years. The gold standard in our world is “evidence-based practice.” That standard is supposed to apply whether we are recommending approving a new drug, releasing a medical device, or changing a public health policy. We carry out research and submit to critical peer review.
One of my colleagues has studied gun violence and its consequences for 30 years. He is an ER physician specializing in trauma care, and a trained epidemiologist. His goal is simply to understand what we need to do to cut down on the numbers of gunshot victims who keep showing up at the hospital door: evidence-based violence reduction. He was interviewed last week by Slate and spoke at length about the impact of the funding restrictions. He had this to say about what we already know from the best research out there:
It tells us that no one intervention is sufficient, but that an array of measures are effective, in different ways. We can set meaningful restrictions on who should have firearms, particularly when comprehensive background checks are in place. We can limit where and how firearms may be used, and what firearms should be owned by civilians. We can map and disrupt criminal firearm marketsIt’s well worth reading the full interview at How Congress Blocked Research (Slate)
We need to lobby VP Biden, our senators, and our representatives to ensure that any legislation in response to the deaths of children in Newtown removes these restrictions on firearm research and actually appropriates funds to determine what policies work. Let’s enact policies based on what we already know, and let’s study what happens to find out how to do even better.