Sunday, December 23, 2012

Who Kills? Congress Kills: Forbidding Research on Gun Violence

The outrage continues to grow after the Newtown massacre. One might have thought that nothing could top the deranged ranting of NRA officials in attempting to place blame for mass murder on everything and everybody rather than on the easy availability of weapons designed specifically for mass murder. But one would be mistaken. The Talking Points Memo alerted us to the fact that the crazies in the NRA have infected our Congress with similarly demented allies by provided a link to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Silencing the Science on Gun Research.

Discussion of gun control ranges from forbidding possession to total freedom of possession. Neither extreme is practical, but there are many intermediate issues that could lead to controls with minimal impact on gun owners while providing significant reductions in injuries and deaths. The authors, Arthur L. Kellermann and Frederick P. Rivara, are doctors who are disturbed by the actions taken by federal and state legislators to limit not only the study of means to limit violence, but also to limit the collection of data on gun violence. They provide this perspective:

"Injury prevention research can have real and lasting effects. Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans dying in motor vehicle crashes has decreased by 31%. Deaths from fires and drowning have been reduced even more, by 38% and 52%, respectively. This progress was achieved without banning automobiles, swimming pools, or matches. Instead, it came from translating research findings into effective interventions."

Given this potential for "interventions" to limit injuries and deaths associated with firearms, Congress leaped into action to prevent such studies.

"But in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC's budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year."

"To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the following language was added to the final appropriation: ‘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’."

"Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency's funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up."

When other agencies had the temerity to study issues related to gun violence, Congress again responded.

"Two years later, Congress extended the restrictive language it had previously applied to the CDC to all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health."

Currently, suicide rates among military personnel exceed the rate of death from combat. Nevertheless, the Armed Services had restrictions placed on them that limit the ability to deal with soldiers who might be deemed suicidal.

"Earlier this month, an article by 2 retired generals—a former chief and a vice chief of staff of the US Army— asked Congress to lift a little-noticed provision in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that prevents military commanders and noncommissioned officers from being able to talk to service members about their private weapons, even in cases in which a leader believes that a service member may be suicidal."

The good doctors are particularly incensed by the attempts to punish doctors who might be "too aggressive" in dealing with gunshot wounds.

"In 2011, Florida's legislature passed and Governor Scott signed HB 155, which subjects the state's health care practitioners to possible sanctions, including loss of license, if they discuss or record information about firearm safety that a medical board later determines was not ‘relevant’ or was ‘unnecessarily harassing.’ A US district judge has since issued a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of this law, but the matter is still in litigation. Similar bills have been proposed in 7 other states."

And what has been accomplished by Congress effectively forbidding firearm injury prevention research?

"Since Congress took this action in 1997, at least 427 000 people have died of gunshot wounds in the United States, including more than 165 000 who were victims of homicide. To put these numbers in context, during the same time period, 4586 Americans lost their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan."

One of the daft notions being promoted by the NRA is that violence would be limited if more people possessed guns and carried them around; the Newtown tragedy could have been averted by having armed gunman stationed in all our schools—and presumably in all our theaters, restaurants, churches, bars, malls, work places..... This issue was addressed in an article written just before the Newtown event: Guns, Armed Citizens, Crime, and Massacres. In it were data on gun violence that are even more relevant today (provided by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence).

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