In 1997, a craven Congress, doing the bidding of the pro-gun lobby, withdrew funding used for gun-violence research by federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That ban on funding — and similar prohibitions in a few states — sent an intimidating message to scientists across the nation, shutting down research. The bans exist to this day, frustrating efforts to understand the epidemic of gun violence that has gripped this nation in such savage forms as the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown two weeks ago.
The bans should be reversed and research funding restored for the sake of saving lives.
In an online article in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, two public health physicians — Arthur L. Kellermann and Frederick P. Rivara —argued that society would know more about how to prevent mass shootings like Newtown if the CDC and other federal agencies still studied why they happen.
The doctors noted that over the past 20 years, the number of Americans dying in motor vehicle crashes has decreased by 31 percent and deaths from fires and drowning have been reduced even more — by 38 percent and 52 percent respectively. Much of the progress came from translating research findings into effective interventions, they wrote in the JAMA paper.
Given the chance, they asked, could researchers achieve similar progress with firearms violence? "It will not be possible to find out unless Congress rescinds its moratorium on firearm injury prevention research."
Drs. Kellermann and Rivara went on to note that "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."
Deep-sixing government-sponsored research into gun violence because a powerful special interest is afraid it might be embarrassed by the conclusions is itself an embarrassment to this country. It says something very ugly about our priorities.
Banning scientific inquiry is something banana republics do.