Suppression of Necessary Gun Violence Research

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By Colette Berg

Late in July 2015, my mother asked a surgeon friend of hers his opinion on gun control. He shook his head sadly and said, “I’ve operated on good guys shot by burglars, I’ve operated on parents accidentally shot by their children and children accidentally shot by their parents. But never have I once operated on a bad guy shot by a good guy.” He does not buy the popular notion that “good guys” with guns can defend themselves from “bad guys” with guns. Of course, this an anecdote from the life of one surgeon. However, most peoples’ opinions on gun control are based on intuition and personal experience rather than data. Good data about gun violence is hard to find, because Congress has refused to provide funding for gun violence research since 1996.

In 1993, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a strong correlation between gun ownership and homicide. The conclusions stated, “Rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.”1 This study was funded by the Center for Disease Control. Immediately after its publication, the National Rifle Association began to lobby for the “elimination of the center that had funded the study, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention.”2 Their efforts to shut down the Center for Injury prevention failed, but “the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year.”3

The Center for Disease Control’s stated purpose is to research public health. They need to investigate the root causes of human injury and disease. They regularly research the social factors that lead to diseases, as well as diseases themselves. For example, the CDC conducts studies on unhealthy foods, which can lead to diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Guns, of course lead to injury, but they also lead to posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety in entire communities. In order to effectively do their duty to the American public, they need to take a holistic approach to solving human health and safety problems. The stated mission of the CDC’s Center for Injury Control and Prevention “to prevent violence and injuries, and reduce their consequences”4. They outline three methods of injury and violence prevention: identifying and monitoring the problem, conducting research to guide decision making, and empowering states through public assistance. The scope of this organization is wide, from developing seatbelt campaigns to anti-violence curriculum in schools. Clearly, research into gun ownership is well within the boundaries of the center.

In Dr. Arthur Kellerman’s article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Silencing the Science on Gun Research”, he explains that this restriction has expanded to apply to other organizations beyond the CDC. Since this amendment has been passed, Congress has taken action to suppress other agencies from conducting similar research. In 2009, a study was conducted about gun carrying which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse. In 2011, Congress expanded the restrictive language that previously only applied to the CDC  After Branas et al published a study about carrying guns. “Two years later, Congress extended the restrictive language it had previously applied to the CDC to all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.”5

Gun rights advocates often claim that guns make people more, rather than less safe. They often claim that restricting gun rights will just lead to criminals getting guns on the black market and being more of a threat to unarmed law-abiders. If NRA advocates truly believe this, they should not be afraid of research. In fact, they should promote and research into gun violence statistics. This would help them promote gun safety and responsible gun ownership.

On March 5, 2015 (a little over a year ago as I write this essay), my father was shot in the leg during an attempted robbery on our front porch in Detroit. My mother and teenage brother were home at the time. He was rushed to the hospital in the back of a police car for emergency surgery. His femur was shattered and the bullet lodged in his kneecap, which was almost completely destroyed. For the next year, he underwent months of wearing external fixators and getting around by wheelchair. By some miracle (and a lot of strenuous physical therapy), he is now able to walk and drive a car. In many ways, our life has returned to normal, but the emotional effects of the event continue to reverberate throughout our lives and our neighborhood.  My parents were conscious, spiritual, and strong in their response to the shooting. They emphasized that this does not define our lives or our community. In the media frenzy that followed the shooting, they kept repeating that people need access to jobs and education, so they will not be driven to commit such horrible crimes. I recognize that we are much more fortunate than many American victims of gun violence. My dad’s bone was able to heal and he did not suffer any bone or organ damage. He was able to take as much time off work as he needed during the recover and keep his white-collar job. Our community rose up to support us during this trying time. Still, I would never wish this experience on anyone. My heart goes out to everyone who has lost loved ones in this year of bombings and mass shootings. I do not understand what will solve this problem, but I want to understand, and I was shocked when I found out that Congress has suppressed the pursuit of the truth about gun violence.

As a society, we shake their heads and pray every time another mass shooting happens. Researchers have no source of public funding for their studies, and must rely on private foundations with limited resources and competing institutional priorities. Gun violence research is not equivalent to gun control promotion. As Dr. Arthur Kellerman stated in his 2013 Article in Journal of the American Medical Association, “Injury prevention research can have real and lasting effects. Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans dying in motor vehicle crashes has decreased by 31%.1 Deaths from fires and drowning have been reduced even more, by 38% and 52%, respectively.1 This progress was achieved without banning automobiles, swimming pools, or matches. Instead, it came from translating research findings into effective interventions.”6

I have been given the gift of a Jesuit education. In my courses for my Environmental Science major as well as my Bioethics minor, I have been encouraged not only to pursue truth, but to use what I learn for the betterment of society. This lack of funding for research on gun control not only suppresses the truth, but also prevents the social goods which could result from effective and balanced research. I proudly support organizations such as the Brady Campaign which works to promote sensible gun regulation. I don’t know what it will take before Congress agrees that enough is enough, and begins funding studies about gun violence. Only when we understand the problem can we innovate our way out of it.

Colette Berg graduated in May of 2016 with a degree in Environmental Sciences and a minor in Bioethics from the Center of Ethics Education.

[1] Kellerman, Arthur. “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home — NEJM.” New England Journal of Medicine. New England Journal of Medicine, 7 Oct. 1993. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
[2] Jameison, Christine. “Gun Violence Research: History of Federal Funding Freeze.” Psychological Science Agenda (Feb. 2013): n. pag. Print.
[3] Kellerman, Arthur. “Silencing the Science on Gun Research.” JAMA Network. Journal of the American Medical Association, Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.
[4] “About CDC’s Injury Center.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.
[6] Kellerman

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