Another horrific school shooting has unleashed a torrent of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims from the president and many members of Congress. The killing of 17 people at a high school in Florida on Wednesday has also renewed calls for stricter regulations of gun sales and ownership.
If history is our guide, nothing will happen. In the harsh, but honest, words of British columnist Dan Hodges: “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” he wrote in a tweet in June 2015. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.” Twenty elementary school children and six adults were killed in December 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Although Congress has debated dozens of bills, no federal gun control legislation has been enacted since then. Meanwhile, there have been more than 1,600 mass shootings.
America must be better than this.
One simple thing that lawmakers, from both parties, should be able to agree on is the need to understand why gun deaths are much more prevalent in the United States than in any other developed country.
An agreed-upon, peer-reviewed set of data and conclusions could form the foundation for long overdue debate and, the majority of Americans hope and support, action to reduce gun violence.
“In any other public health crisis in our country — highway safety or breast cancer, for example — we have based our solutions on data,” Shaughnessy Naughton, a founder of 314 Action, told the Bangor Daily News. The group advocates for evidence-based policies and supports STEM professionals running for office.
But, for decades there has been a chill on gun research in the US. In 1996, Congress passed a budget provision prohibiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funds to “advocate for or promote gun control” and later expanded the provision to include the National Institutes of Health. To prevent criticism from groups such as the NRA, agencies interpreted the prohibition to forbid nearly all types of research into gun violence.
President Barack Obama tried to ease the ban in 2016 by directing the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and the U.S. attorney general to study smart gun technology. The CDC refused to fund the research.
A backer of the original legislation now says it was a mistake, which should prompt Congress to lift the ban that carries his name.
“If we had somehow gotten the research going, we could have somehow found a solution to the gun violence without there being any restrictions on the Second Amendment,” former Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Arkansas, told the Huffington Post in 2015. “We could have used that all these years to develop the equivalent of that little small fence,” he said, referring to highway barriers now in place to reduce crashes.
The statistics are well known: Mass shootings, defined as events in which four or more people are killed, are exponentially more common in the U.S. than in other developed countries. Suicides are more common in homes where guns are present and in states with high gun ownership rates. Women who are victims of domestic violence are eight times more likely to be killed by their partner if there is a gun in the home. In 2013, guns accounted for nearly as many U.S. deaths — more than 60 percent of them suicides — as motor vehicle traffic: 33,636 vs. 33,804, according to the U.S. CDC.
And, perhaps most disturbing of all, a toddler shoots someone on a weekly basis in the U.S.
In our guts, all of us, including staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, know this is wrong. We must stop hiding behind unfounded fears (“they” are coming to take our guns, “they” will take away our right to hunt) and ridiculous platitudes (“only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad buy with a gun”) and begin demanding action from our elected leaders.
Otherwise, Dan Hodges will be proven tragically right.