After the Newtown massacre in December, a number of graphs depicting gun statistics went viral, and a number of takedowns quickly emerged pointing to their inaccuracy. That’s probably due, in part, to the fact that there’s been a virtual ban on research of how gun violence impacts public health in the U.S. According to NBC, the NRA has effectively had a stranglehold on gun statistic research. That’s a story in and of itself, but today, the major headline is that Obama is clearing the way for scientific inquiry into how gun violence impacts our health (and giving researchers some funding, while he’s at it).
This isn’t to say that no one has ever done research on gun violence and public health; in the 80s and 90s, the CDC conducted original research (including studies that disproved the theory that people who have guns in their homes are better protected). But according to NBC News, the NRA, with help from supportive members of Congress, shut down funding for their research and stipulated that CDC funding can’t be used “to advocate or promote gun control.”
Stephen Teret, director for the Center for Law and the Public’s Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC that the “CDC overreacted to that statement and became more reluctant to fund anything dealing with guns, even the traditional epidemiological research, so there was a chilling effect.” Plus, the NRA actually attacked certain scientists and tried to discredit their work.
This is disturbing on ethical grounds, but in practical terms, it has likely cost the lives of many gun violence victims, too. Research on how things like gun violence impact public health often leads to successful prevention campaigns and policy change; NBC gives automobile deaths as an example of one threat that has waned in recent years thanks to research.
After Newtown, a number of graphs and images went viral depicting U.S. gun deaths. Their accuracy was debatable, but the events at Newtown made it hard to deny that the toll was and is too high. As a result, President Obama passed a memorandum today directing the CDC to put efforts back into coming up with more accurate information, and also called for Congress to contribute $10 million to the cause. He explained:
We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science from this epidemic of violence
We’d think that was a given, regardless of how you feel about gun laws. We hope it stays that way.
Photo: Slate/@GunDeaths interactive