By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – There’s a reason Americans can’t seem to get anywhere when it comes to dealing with the epidemic of gun violence in our country.
We don’t know enough.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
For more than 20 years, the Centers for Disease Control has been banned from studying the public health effects of America’s gun policies.
The ban took effect in 1997. It was the result of what was known as the Dickey Amendment, which prohibited the CDC from using any federal funds to research guns and gun violence.
The late U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Arkansas, proclaimed himself “a point man for the NRA” – National Rifle Association – in Congress.
He authored the ban, he said at the time, to please the gun lobby, which saw research as hostile to its interests. Later, as the body counts continued to climb, he said he’d made a mistake and regretted supporting the ban.
By then, though, the ban had been in place for years.
And the United States was recording gun-related deaths at 20 times the rate of the rest of the developed world.
Following the mass murder of more than 25 elementary school students and educators in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama ordered the CDC to do a new study.
The CDC did so, reluctantly. CDC officials said that their interpretation of the law was that the ban was still in effect. It was an interpretation reinforced by statements from NRA-friendly members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
Nonetheless, the study was done.
Gun rights advocates seized on one part of the study. The study reported that defensive gun use might be more prevalent than the use of firearms in committing crimes.
The NRA and its fans saw this as support for their primary argument – that the best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
The problem was that the gun rights activists, as is often their practice, cherry-picked the findings for “facts” that supported their position and ignored everything that might weaken or undercut their position.
What the report actually said was that all the evidence supporting the widespread usage of firearms for purposes of personal defense was in dispute. (That the estimates regarding defensive gun use varied by margins as wide as 3 million incidents per year might have been a clue that the numbers weren’t solid.)
And that dispute called out for more research.
Why does this matter?
Our system of government is a product of the Enlightenment. Our founders placed their faith in reason, in the ability of human beings to gather information and craft policies based on that information.
In our system, ignorance – particularly determined, willful ignorance – often results in paralysis.
When it comes to guns, that’s where we have been for the past quarter-century.
More research would get us moving again.
It’s possible that the gun rights advocates are right. Maybe guns are used far more often by private citizens for purposes of self-defense than they are to commit murders and other crimes.
If so, that fact ought to inform and shape our public policy.
The best guess, though, is that if the leaders of the NRA and their house-pet congressmen and senators had faith in those numbers, the research would have been approved and funded immediately, if not sooner.
Whether the gun devotees are right or not, having more facts will help us figure out the best way to move forward.
Those facts aren’t likely to persuade the NRA leadership and other rabid gun devotees, of course. They drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago and just love the taste.
But there are millions of other Americans who want to do the right thing. They want to figure out a way to balance the liberties of those who want to own guns and those who just don’t want to be shot. They want to explore ways to preserve freedom and save lives at the same time.
Good research on guns and gun violence can help us with that.
That’s why the ban needs to be lifted.
The truth not only will set us free.
The truth also may save a lot of lives.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.