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Funding for gun violence research long overdue

My Opinion
Funding for gun violence research long overdue
Funding for gun violence research long overdue
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]

Is there an American who can honestly deny that gun violence is a serious problem in our country? Gun violence is the leading cause of premature death in the United States. That’s astounding and bears repeating: gun violence is the No. 1 cause of premature death in our country.

As of Dec. 30, there were 416 mass shootings and 31 mass murders that occurred in 2019, according to data collected by Gun Violence Archive, which obtains information from 6,500 sources daily, according to its website.

Think about those numbers for a minute: 416 mass shootings. There are only 365 days in a year, so we averaged more than one mass shooting per day last year. GVA defines a mass shooting only on the numeric value of four or more people shot or killed, not including the shooter.

There were very few days this past year in which we didn’t learn of yet another mass shooting as we watched the nightly news. And, we only heard about the incidents involving a number of people.

Did you realize the majority of gun violence deaths — 24,024 as of Dec. 30 — were suicides? That’s absolutely heartbreaking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that gun-related suicides increased 21% during the 10-year period from 2006 to 2016.

The reaction with each mass shooting has become an uncomfortable routine, but a routine nonetheless. Almost always the shooter is a white male. The rhetoric from the NRA starts up: it’s not the gun’s fault, people kill people, guns don’t kill people. Calls for gun-control legislation begin. Everyone sends their thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. Then, we try to forget about it until the next time. The next time, sadly, comes with increasing frequency. Gun violence and our reaction to it have become a numbing reality in America today.

Why is gun violence such an issue in our country?

That’s a question the government, for all intents and purposes, has chosen to ignore for the past two decades. Did you know there has been zero government-funded research concerning gun violence for the past 20 years? Ironic, given that’s the time period during which this problem reached epidemic proportions.

Why is that?

Surprise, surprise, it goes back to the NRA, an organization that may have started with good intentions but which has morphed into a lobbying group that wields incredible control over lawmakers. The NRA maintains there is no “epidemic” of gun violence, saying most people never experience it. Its website cites the nation’s steep decline in murder rate — now half what it was in 1991 — as proof that more Americans owning guns has resulted in a safer country.

Let’s go back in time.

In 1993, CDC-funded research found gun ownership was a risk factor for homicide in the home. According to an article by the American Psychological  Society written after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, “the study found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide. The article concluded that, rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.”

The study garnered media coverage and a response from the NRA. The NRA campaigned heavily to completely eliminate the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. Let that sink in. Based on one study concerning one cause of injury and death, the NRA urged Congress to completely eliminate the entire center.

Stunning.

The NRA did not succeed, but it won nonetheless. While the Center for Injury Prevention remained intact, the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill included this language: “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate for gun control.”

While this did not explicitly ban gun violence research, Congress snatched $2.6 million in CDC funding, the exact amount the CDC had invested in firearm injury research the year before. That effectively ended the research as — no surprise here — federal employees weren’t willing to risk their careers to attempt any sort of research related to guns. They got the message loud and clear.

Thankfully, the ban on gun violence research is about to end.

The $1.4 trillion spending package Congress passed last week to fund the government through September included $25 million in funding for gun violence research.

I can’t imagine many logical people will oppose such research. Gun violence is an issue that scares many of us. A recent Gallup poll found 48% of Americans worry that they or a family member will become a victim of a mass shooting. That’s up from 39% in 2017. An American Psychiatric Association poll found that 24% have changed how they live their lives because of gun violence. I doubt there’s a school in America that doesn’t now have regular mass shooting drills, the same as fire and tornado drills. That’s sad.

Now, lest you conclude that I am anti-gun, please read on.

Many members of my family hunt. There was a gun in my house when I was growing up. There are guns in my home now. My eldest son received a .22 for Christmas this year. I believe gun ownership is an absolute right, but responsible gun ownership is a must.

I also believe there are far too many guns that fall into the wrong hands. I know too many people who are irresponsible gun owners. I think we can do more to make guns safer and to keep them away from people who should not own them.

Maybe now the CDC — the organization charged with protecting our health, safety and security — can delve into this critical issue without fear of retribution. Maybe it can amass some hard data concerning gun violence in our country. Maybe this will be one step toward saving lives from gun violence in America.

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