Surprise, Surprise: The Gun Lobby Is Undermining Research Into The Cause And Prevention Of Gun Violence

shutterstock_4366687There is a very interesting Op-Ed piece in the New York Times today, about the necessity for research into the cause and prevention of gun violence. Did you know that Obama had to sign an executive order “to expand the federal reporting system on violent deaths to all 50 states, from the current 18?” I didn’t. The gun lobby has pretty much shut down government-funded research on gun violence for the past 17 years.

The research freeze began at a time when the C.D.C. was making strides in studying gun violence as a public health problem. Before that, the issue had been regarded mainly as a law enforcement challenge or as a problem of disparate acts by deranged offenders, an approach that remains in sync with the N.R.A. worldview.

Public health research emphasizes prevention of death, disability and injury. It focuses not only on the gun user, but on the gun, in much the same way that public health efforts to reduce motor vehicle deaths have long focused on both drivers and cars.

In other words, guns do kill people. We all know it. Can we start figuring out how to make their production and ownership safer for everyone, please?

To understand and prevent motor vehicle deaths, for instance, the government tracks more than 100 variables per fatal crash, including the make, model and year of the vehicles, the speed and speed limit, the location of passengers, seat belt use and air bag deployment.

Guns deaths do not get such scrutiny.

My question is, why? If you really believe that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” then why object to research that may, in fact, back up your claim? Is it because everyone knows that claim is ridiculous and when we start to mount evidence on how dangerous gun ownership actually is, guns will be as hard to get as, say, a driver’s licence?

Access Denied documents how for “the past decade or so: the federal government has conducted almost no scientific research on how criminals get and misuse guns, or what policies are effective at stopping them; law enforcement has been prohibited from sharing analyses of crime gun trace data with policymakers and the press; and military leaders and doctors have been barred from talking about gun safety to people under their command or care. All of this despite the fact that Americans murder each other with guns at nearly 20 times the rate of residents of other high-income countries.”

We research the safety of everything from soda consumption, to airbags, to the amount of time spent on public transit. It seems only natural that we should be researching the safety of firearms – especially when they are responsible for so many deaths every year. I’m afraid the argument may just be too logical for the gun lobby, though. Propaganda and ideology are much more useful than cold, hard facts.

(photo: Annemarie Young/

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  • Lastango

    The devil is in the details — and the report by Access Denied is conspicuously short on details.

    Consider the push for “report lost-or-stolen firearms” laws. Why would a gun-banner want these? Because the laws raise the potential cost and legal risk of owning firearms. “Report” laws contain large fines and criminal penalties for anyone who fails to report a lost or stolen firearm — often within as little as 48 hours. The gun owner also becomes the subject of an investigation into whether the owner is a trafficker supplying guns to crimnals. If the loss or theft isn’t reported in the time limit, the owner is subject to an investigation to determine whether the owner knew or “reasonably” should have known the gun was missing.

    The fact that this has the potential to turn lawful gun owners into criminals, and cost them money, is part of the anti-second-amendment agenda of making more people reluctant to own firearms.

    Gun shops are another target. To be in compliance, stores will have to do frequent inventory audits and set up reporting mechanisms for discrepancies. That increases costs, which in turn increases the retail price of firearms, and reduces the number of guns sold. Regulatory harassment is — as everyone who follows the oil and gas business knows — a political tool for hamstringing an industry and extracting concessions by means of threats.**

    The NRA has been fighting the anti-second-amendment gang for decades, and understands why these seemingly-benign laws are created, and who is behind them. Of course, it’s still possible for a reasonable person to disagree with the NRA’s position. But it’s a serious intellectual error (and plain laziness) to think the NRA is a knee-jerk organization that has no developed opinions or arguments to make.


    **An example always helps. In 2010, EPA administrator Al Armendariz stated on video that the EPA’s “general philosophy” is to “crucify” and “make examples” of oil and gas companies.

    In the video, Administrator Armendariz says:

    “I was in a meeting once and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement, and I think it was probably a little crude and maybe not appropriate for the meeting, but I’ll go ahead and tell you what I said:

    “It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them.

    “Then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”

    “And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law. Find people who are not compliant with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them, and there is a deterrent effect there.”