The Republicans' war on science is slaughtering our children

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The proud know-nothings of the NRA and in the Republican party insist that nothing could work to stop gun violence (the bad guy with the gun) while they prop up the industry, flooding our streets with machines of mass destruction. Because, they say, experience proves nothing will work. Because, they say, it will just keep happening. Meanwhile, for the past 22 years, they’ve throttled any and all public policy research into what might actually prevent our children from being slaughtered with guns.

Dr. Mark L. Rosenberg, current president emeritus of the Task Force for Global Health in Decatur, was the first director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and he has some thoughts on this.

The exact causes of America’s rise in mass shootings—and the best ways to prevent such violence—remain uncertain all these years after Columbine. Should we focus our efforts on mental health? Would a ban on semi-automatic rifles necessarily solve the problem? What if the surest bet is for schools to install metal detectors in their halls? To those of us in the public health community, the path forward is clear: To solve this nationwide crisis of firearm injuries and deaths, we must pursue the same kind of scientific research that showed us how to save millions of lives from cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure. The same type of scientific research that helped us save half a million lives from road traffic crashes, without banning cars. The same kind of scientific research that proved that second-hand smoke harms people. Common sense doesn’t tell us whether a ban on semi-automatic rifles will reduce mass shootings—that question is too complicated for us to simply work out in our heads. But it’s possible a well-designed study could, and would in turn build public trust in any resulting legislation.

The problem is that scientists don’t have the resources to do the research we so urgently need.

We used to be able to conduct such work. In the 1980s, researchers at the CDC began a program to find out how to prevent gun violence. But in 1996, Congress, with prodding from the NRA, stepped in. That year, the House and Senate passed the so-called Dickey amendment, which declared that none of the federal funds for the CDC’s injury center could be used “to promote or advocate gun control.” The amendment did not explicitly prohibit the CDC from conducting gun violence research; it prohibited the CDC (and later, other federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health) from lobbying for gun control legislation. Nevertheless, the provision was a shot across the bow and had a chilling effect.