On Saturday March 9, Team 26, a volunteer group of elite riders and their support crew, took off after a Newtown rally with Connecticut Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy, and Reps. Himes and Esty for a press conference in Washington DC with the entire CT delegation in support of sensible gun laws.
So what do "sensible guns laws" really mean? Well, here's a take out of recent history that might clarify the intent.
Once upon a time, back in 1968, the federal government passed a law requiring seat belts to be fitted in all vehicles. They were not made mandatory for use until 1984, when NY became the first state to require them to be used (link), and it's at the state level that mandatory use emanates.
Why did this all happen? Well, a fellow you may have heard of, Ralph Nader, wrote a scathing book in 1965 called Unsafe at Any Speed:
Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile by Ralph Nader, published in 1965, is a book detailing resistance by car manufacturers to the introduction of safety features, like seat belts, and their general reluctance to spend money on improving safety. It was a pioneering work, openly polemical but containing substantial references and material from industry insiders. It made Nader a household name.And while there was a pretty big gap between 1965 and 1984, the pressure that started with Nader's book culminated in the drive to make seat belts mandatory.
Did they work? You betcha.
But more on that, and the initial reaction to seat belts below the fold.
You'd think that the now-accepted seat belt laws would have been an easy sell, but you'd be wrong if you thought that. Initial (and current) objections included an infringement of the state on personal liberty, and accusations of exaggerating the number of lives that could be saved:
Seat Belt Legislation OppositionAnd if you think that sounds familiar, you should. It exactly mirrors the discussion we have about the 2nd Amendment rights and gun violence legislation we talk about today. And while the there's no 2nd Amendment for the right to drive cars, one doesn't need a Bill of Rights Amendment to have those similar objections.
If it’s effective at saving lives, why is there an opposition to the compulsory fitting and wearing of seat belts? There are two common grounds for opposition, the first of which is in the nature of the seat belt law: according to the opposition, the forced wearing of seat belts is a form of infringement of liberty. Vehicle occupants who do not wear seat belts are doing so with conscious knowledge of the fact that they can suffer more in property damage, injury, and possibly death as a result of their decision to forgo the seat belt.
A majority of those who oppose the seat belt legislation consider the official estimates to be overstated, or not reflective of the complete picture, which includes additional risks for other road users. On these grounds, the opposition refers to the theory of risk compensation first studied by researcher John Adams. In brief, the theory states that the lesser the risks of injury and death are, the more drivers will reduce their precautions while driving. This theory also has strong evidence to its credit, which makes it a rather strong argument against the seat belt legislation.
By the way, it wasn't just the US. The Guardian had a nice piece on what was going on in the UK:
National Archives: Police opposed seat belts law as waste of their timeSo where is all this taking us? Gun violence is a public health issue. There have been over 2500 gun deaths since Newtown, and that's something the public needs to address.
The RAC was sceptical, the police said they would waste their time and civil servants worried that old people would not wear them when Ted Heath's government began the tortuous process of considering whether wearing seat belts in cars should be made compulsory in the early 1970s, according to government papers released at the National Archives yesterday.
We need to collect data and do the research. Just like with seat belts and air bags, we need to know better what works and what doesn't.
We need to implement improvements to what we are doing now so that we don't have as much loss of life.
We need to understand that this will take time.
And we need to understand that despite concerns about freedom, elite riders (and not so elite riders) wear helmets for safety, and that seat belts and air bags save lives. I consider that a good thing, and a worthy public health goal.
The goal for sensible gun laws is a safer country. Let's get together on this public issue, find common ground, and act. We can discuss and even disagree on how to proceed, but i reject the idea outright that nothing can be done, and so do people in Tucson, Aurora, Columbine, VA Tech and Newtown, and elsewhere in this country.
Gun violence is a public health issue and should be treated as such, just like traffic deaths, and with systemic approaches based on data. There is a role for each of us: the CDC, the public health schools, doctors and voters in bringing that about.
Seat belts were instituted, cars got safer, lives were saved.
Let's get together on this and get it done for gun violence as well. Call it the Connecticut Effect if you want, but it is not going away.