When it comes to gun violence, Congress needs to arm itself.
With the facts.
Then it needs to translate those facts into legislation to combat the scourge of gun deaths that each year cost thousands of Americans their lives.
One of the first things that Congress could do is to fund federal research on gun violence and that would require it to revisit the infamous Dickey Amendment in 1996 that prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using any funds “to advocate or promote gun control.”
That directive came after a CDC-funded firearms study showed that gun ownership was a risk factor for homicide in the home. The NRA was up in arms and wanted Congress to eliminate the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention.
Congress didn’t do that, but it did reallocate CDC’s funding and removed $2.6 million that had been budgeted for firearm injury research and shifted it to traumatic brain injury studies.
The message was clear and in the ensuring years federal funding for firearm injury prevention dropped 96 percent.
The author of that amendment, Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., died last year, but before his death he lamented the chilling effect it had on government research and in 2012 co-wrote a commentary in the Washington Post saying “we are in strong agreement now that scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries and that ways to prevent firearm deaths can be found without encroaching on the rights of legitimate gun owners.”
We agree. Our federal agencies should not be in the advocacy business, but they do have an obligation to provide scientific information that allows policy-makers — Congress and the president — to make reasoned judgments and laws based on facts, And Congress, to that end, should provide the necessary funding to make that research possible and undo the chilling effect of the Dickey amendment.
In the wake of the Parkland, Fla. school shootings that left 17 dead, Devin Hughes, founder of GVPedia, and Mark Bryant, executive director of Gun Violence Archive, criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan, for reacting to the shootings saying: “I think as public policy-makers, we don’t just knee-jerk before we even have all of the facts and data.”
“It’s a common refrain from politicians opposed to strengthening gun laws,” Hughes and Bryant wrote, “They use ‘lack of data’ as a fig leaf for their inaction.”
So let’s get the facts.
Here’s one place to start. Hughes and Bryan wrote in their commentary: “The push to get firearms into more hands is based on the false notion that defensive gun use (DGU) is widespread and effective at preventing injury. The gun lobby and its allies tout research that put the number of defensive gun uses at approximately 2.5 million a year. However, the methodology behind that figure has been called into question by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. And by combing through media and police reports, the Gun Violence Archive documented approximately 2,000 verified DGUs in 2017, which also casts doubt on the 2.5-million estimate. As to the efficacy of DGUs, a 2015 Hemenway study showed that using a gun in self-defense is no better at preventing injury than alternative means such as doing nothing or running away.”
So, which is it? 2.5 million defensive gun uses? Or 2,000?
The answer to that question can be found through honest scientific research — and from that lawmakers at both the state and federal levels can make better decisions on policies like concealed carry.
The fact is that more than 30,000 Americans die each year from gun violence — just as many as those killed on our streets and highways in auto accidents. Two-thirds of those gun deaths in 2013 were attributed to suicide — a little over a third to homicide.
Federal research on auto safety helped dampen the number of road deaths 50 years ago with the implementation of seat-belts, air bags and other measures that had scientific grounding.
The same can be done with gun violence.But, first, Congress needs to arm itself with the facts.