In the wake of the Orlando shooting this past Saturday, the American Medical Association announced on Tuesday that gun violence is a public health crisis.
In the statement, AMA President Steven J. Stack said:
An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital so physicians and other health providers, law enforcement, and society at large may be able to prevent injury, death and other harms to society resulting from firearms.
It makes perfect sense, especially if you look at the data showing a disturbing trend in frequency of mass shootings in the United States.
Of course everyone has their own opinion on gun control, but when you have something that is harming people, the appropriate response is to investigate the cause. We have examples of this resulting in positive change that has saved lives in the past.
Motor Vehicle Fatalities
Let’s do some math. In 1950, there were 33,186 fatalities caused by motor vehicle accidents. This figure steadily increased over the next two decades, and in 1970, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was formed. The same year, there were 52,627 fatalities associated with motor vehicle accidents, or 25.665 fatalities per 100,000 people. Since 1972 and 1973 (the years with the most fatalities on record), the data shows us that traffic fatalities have sharply declined, so much that in 2014 there were 32,675 fatalities.
That difference is even more drastic when you compare the population sizes. In 1970, there were approximately 204 million people in the United States, compared to today, where we have approximately 316 million. That’s a 155% increase in population, yet the fatality rate is 38% lower than it was in 1970. When comparing the population sizes, the fatality rate from motor vehicle accidents today is literally less than half what it was the year the NHTSA was created.
How did this happen?
Lifesaving legislation was introduced, such as seatbelt and airbag laws. Roads have been designed to be safer to drive on as well. Car manufacturers have been required to conduct standardized safety/impact testing on new vehicles. Impact ratings for all vehicles are publicly available. Most (if not all?) new vehicles come with side impact airbags as standard. These were all evidence-based changes implemented as a result of making observations.
Why aren’t we doing the same for gun violence?
The CDC has been effectively banned from researching gun violence. Former House Speaker John Boehner defended this stance, saying:
I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease.
The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health.
That seems like a plausible argument. After all, it’s the Center for Disease Control. But is Congress restricting the CDC’s ability to investigate opioid overdoses? Or restricting the CDC’s ability to advocate for violence prevention? What about bicycle safety, fire prevention, water safety, or pedestrian safety? These clearly are not diseases, but are public health issues. The CDC’s mission statement says “The CDC’s mission, simply put, is to keep Americans safe and healthy where they work, live and play.” Preventing the CDC from researching gun violence goes directly against the CDC’s mission.
The “ban” on gun violence research isn’t technically a ban, though. It comes from the Omnibus Appropriations Bill in 1996, which said:
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.
That year, Congress cut CDC funding by $2.6 million, or the amount the CDC had spent in 1995 researching gun violence. Additionally, Congress blocked bills in 2012 and 2013 that would have given $10 million in funding to the CDC to conduct gun violence research. The CDC is essentially afraid to conduct research on gun violence, fearing future funding cuts and termination of employment.
If nothing else, let’s think about the children here. Toddlers are shooting people at a higher rate this year than they did last year. How is that not terrifying?
What’s more is that during one week in April 2016, four toddlers shot and killed themselves. Some may try to explain this away by stating that toddler-involved shootings are the result of irresponsible gun owners. I agree! Clearly there is a breakdown somewhere in the security of the firearm that permitted the child to have access to it. But this argument only serves to highlight exactly why we need increased restriction on the ability to access firearms.
Mass shootings are happening too often. By Congress’ inaction, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook marked the day that Congress decided that the murder of children was an acceptable side effect of gun ownership.
There is literally no valid reason to oppose evidence-based legislation for firearms. None. The NRA has been successful in blocking any gun legislation, or even funding for gun violence research, which seems counterintuitive to the NRA’s mission:
… to promote firearms and hunting safety, to enhance marksmanship skills of those participating in the shooting sports, and to educate the general public about firearms in their historic, technological and artistic context.
Their slogan is also “teach freedom,” whatever that means.
A reasonable person who is interested in firearms safety should be in support of researching gun violence and looking at options for evidence-based legislation. But instead, the NRA has made statements such as this:
President Obama has chosen to engage in political rhetoric, instead of offering meaningful solutions to our nation’s pressing problems.
No, that’s not at all what is happening, and you’re deflecting the issue using hyperbole. The “meaningful solutions” that you so desperately desire could be accomplished if the CDC was allowed to research gun violence.
Now, defenders of the Second Amendment will argue that it’s “in the Bill of Rights” or that we “can’t touch the Bill of Rights.” Bullshit. The Constitution was designed to be an ever-changing document that grows and expands as we grow as a society. The Constitution has been amended 27 times. Even some amendments have been amended! The fact that the Constitution had to be amended to outlaw slavery is an example of its imperfection (and even then, there were twelve amendments that preceded it!).
But I get it. You want to keep your guns. That’s fine. No rational person is asking that you forfeit your guns. All we are asking for is for the CDC to have the ability to research gun violence and compile data.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a little more paperwork be filled out, a little more background information collected, a little more education and training be done before someone buys an object that was created with the sole intent of killing things. Something needs to change, and having data to support and guide us is the most responsible and rational means to enact it. It should take longer than seven minutes to buy a semi-automatic rifle.
What are you afraid of anyway? What do you think would happen with adequately funded research on gun violence? Do you think that Obama is going to take your guns? Or that you need as many firearms as possible to defend yourself from the government?
(Think about that statement for a second. What you’re saying is that you oppose gun control because you think that you may need to shoot law enforcement officers or members of the military in some sort of coup. That’s insane.)
It’s true that some bad people will still find a way to do bad things that they want, and even with gun control legislation, some will likely obtain illegal firearms. If you’re convinced of this, then why are groups like the American Family Association so concerned about bathroom laws for transgender people?
How many mass shootings have been stopped by an armed civilian in the past 30 years? Absolutely none.
If “guns don’t kill people,” then why are you afraid of researching violence surrounding them?
What can you do? Be reasonable. Be rational. Don’t ask for The Constitution to be changed immediately. That’s an unproductive argument and will not encourage policy change. Public policy has to be created and guided by evidence and data, not emotion.