A week ago today saw one of the deadliest mass shootings in United States history, as a pair of Islamic terrorists entered the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., and murdered 14 innocents.
The fallout has followed an all-too-predictable pattern. Gun-control advocates have said this nation needs to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of would-be murderers. Gun-rights advocates have said that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. It is worth noting — as a bit of insight into the mentality of Americans — that whenever a mass shooting occurs, gun sales increase. Statistics show that fewer Americans own guns than in previous generations, but those who do own them possess an average of eight weapons — demonstrating a vast divide in our attitudes about guns.
While that divide is not going to be closed, and while we can respect those who support the Second Amendment as well as those who choose not to own guns, one underlying aspect must be dealt with at the congressional level. Since 1996, there have been restrictions upon federal funding for research into gun violence. Since what is known as the Dickey Amendment was passed two decades ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the National Institutes of Health, have been prohibited from using funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” The practical impact has been to quash research into gun violence in this country.
There are two sad ironies to this. One is that last Wednesday, hours before the carnage in San Bernardino, a group of physicians gathered at the nation’s Capitol to urge lawmakers to overturn this ban. Another is that Jay Dickey, now a former congressman from Arkansas and namesake of the aforementioned ban, has recently flipped his position on the examination of gun violence. “Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners, in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile,” Dickey wrote in a recent letter to Congressional leaders. “Scientific research should help answer how we can best reduce gun violence.”
We agree. Since 1996, more than a half-million people have died from gun violence in this country. While mass shootings grab more than their share of attention, it is the daily drip-drip-drip of domestic violence and suicides and crime involving guns that is a particular indictment of this nation’s inability to deal with problems.
The National Rifle Association has entrenched that inability. Rather than seek answers for how to prevent gun-related suicides or how to develop storage mechanisms that will be effective and will be used by gun owners, the NRA has clung to a belief that ignorance is bliss. Following a 1993 study that showed homes with firearms are at an increased risk for homicide in the home, the NRA lobbied to shut down the Center for Injury Prevention; the Dickey Amendment was the compromise.
Americans are killing each other or themselves at a rate of about 30,000 per year while using guns. This is a problem that has many underlying causes — crime, mental illness and, on occasion, terrorism from foreign or domestic radicals. There are no easy answers to this scourge, and no way in which to eradicate it completely. But, as Jay Dickey, the former Congressman, said earlier this year: “I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time. I have regrets.”
So should we all.