Unbiased research can contribute to gun debate
As critics begin dissecting the Obama administration's ideas on gun control, one refrain is certain to surface: There is no research connecting problem A, say how many gun show guns end up in the hands of felons, to solution B, say requiring background checks for gun show sales.
The reason there is so little research on so many of these connections leads to a truly bizarre and little-known bit of congressional craziness.
Before about 1990, research on issues like the connection between mental health and gun violence was at a high point.
The Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regularly funded research on gun violence.
But the National Rifle Association began to see that government-sponsored research wasn't reaching the conclusions the NRA wanted to hear.
One specific study really aggravated the NRA.
It found that having a gun in a home resulted in greater danger to a family than it provided in actual safety. In other words, guns in the house more often resulted in accidental and intentional family deaths than the protection of the inhabitants.
This was calculated by simply counting up the accidents and deaths and sorting them into various categories.
Those results seemed to provide good gun consumer information but they also ran directly counter to the interests of gun makers and the NRA, which was to convince consumers they needed guns for protection.
The NRA's response to that wasn't to refute the information or do its own research.
No, it decided a better path would be to make sure such research was never done again.
In 1996, all money for the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health for gun research was sliced from their budgets.
To make its intent perfectly clear, Congress ordered that no funds could be used in any research that might be used to "advocate or promote" gun control.
In 2009, the National Institutes of Health crossed the NRA by funding a study that found a person carrying a gun was 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault as an unarmed person.
Again, that could be useful information to a person thinking of carrying a gun for safety.
And, again, it contradicted the NRA orthodoxy that we will all be safer when we all carry guns.
In 2011, Congress extended the same ban on government-funded research to the NIH.
So today the CDC still keeps track of how many people are killed (about 31,000 per year in the U.S.) or injured by guns, but it no longer tries to figure out why or what can be done to prevent gun mayhem.
In fact, trend lines show that by 2015 gun deaths will exceed automobile fatalities.
The Washington Post recently reported that even Obamacare contains a provision prohibiting health care workers from collecting data on guns in homes and using it for research.
We now have a 15-year gap in federally funded research that we could be using to formulate answers to tragedies such as the one in Newtown, Conn.
Think of the way government research has improved the safety of everything from coal mines to airlines.
So, when we talk about the lack of basic research on gun ownership and safety in the upcoming debate, we will have the NRA to thank for that.