Laws Block the Study of Gun Violence

Violence happens.  People use guns to kill other people, and if not guns, then some other weapon.  Murders are so common, in fact, that homicides claim roughly 1,000 victims everyday and images of guns and violence fill our TV screens.  Although mass-killings like those in Columbine and Aurora continue to horrify us, they no longer surprise us.  We understand that humans kill others and that violence is just one aspect of human social behavior that we sometimes accept — think war — but often reject — think bullying, fistfights, and Aurora.

But why?  Why do will hurt, hit, and occasionally murder one another?  Social scientists could shed light on the causes of gun violence and means of preventing it.  But, unfortunately, politicians and lobbyist have stymied research into both the social sciences and gun violence.  In a new op-ed for the Washington Post, Jay Dickey and Mark Rosenberg lament the dramatic cost of gun violence — over 30,000 deaths a year, more than those murdered on September 11th and almost as many that die each year from car-crashes — and their own failure to fund research into its causes.

From 1986 to 1996, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sponsored high-quality, peer-reviewed research into the underlying causes of gun violence.  People who kept guns in their homes did not — despite their hopes — gain protection, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Instead, residents in homes with a gun faced a 2.7-fold greater risk of homicide and a 4.8-fold greater risk of suicide.  The National Rifle Association moved to suppress the dissemination of these results and to block funding of future government research into the causes of firearm injuries.

One of us served as the NRA’s point person in Congress and submitted an amendment to an appropriations bill that removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget, the amount the agency’s injury center had spent on firearms-related research the previous year.  This amendment, together with the stipulation 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,” sent a chilling message.

Since the legislation passed in 1996, the United States has spent about $240 million a year on traffic safety research, but there has been almost no publicly funded research on firearm injuries . . .

We were on opposite sides of the heated battle 16 years ago, but 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.  The same evidence-based approach that is saving millions of lives from motor-vehicle crashes, as well as from smoking, cancer and HIV/AIDS, can help reduce the toll of deaths and injuries from gun violence.

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