When those lawmakers held captive by the National Rifle Association offer their “thoughts and prayers” following tragic shootings in schools, churches and movie theaters, they don’t really mean it. We’re not questioning their devotion to the Almighty. It’s the “thoughts” part of their statements we doubt.
Thoughts require information – facts, data, numbers. To get all that requires performing studies forged through scientific rigor.
Gun-rights advocates and legislators would rather we remain ignorant. In 1996, they passed the Dickey Amendment, barring the world’s most powerful public health research organization – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – from studying gun violence. Without the federal government’s resources, research on gun violence has withered.
In the ensuing 22 years, there have been some 600,000 shooting victims in America. Only so much can be learned from individual cases, but taken together we could learn a lot. We could learn about the role domestic violence plays in shootings, or how access to guns affect suicides or ways to reduce accidental shootings. Do societal factors drive shooting numbers up or down (it’s down over the past decade).
In the words of House Speaker Paul Ryan, we need “more facts and data.”
Unfortunately, Ryan is part of the reason we don’t have facts and data. As a recipient of nearly $50,000 in direct NRA contributions, he has never scheduled a hearing or vote to reconsider the Dickey Amendment.
Seven legislators have written to Ryan asking him to do just that. U.S. Rep David Price, D-N.C., is vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and a leading advocate for funding federal research into gun violence. After the Parkland shootings, he and six others wrote to Ryan asking that a vote to repeal the Dickey Amendment be considered.
“Gun-related deaths now nearly equal deaths from traffic accidents,” Price wrote. He wants data to help lawmakers “craft an effective response” to what he calls a “public health crisis.” Such research, wrote Price, “could save lives.”
Maybe Ryan and the rest can take courage from the thousands of students who marched in Modesto, San Francisco, Miami, Washington D.C. and across America on Saturday. Or perhaps seeing hundreds of thousands of teens and their parents on the move made them fearful – for their jobs. Those thousands of kids will be voters someday, and soon.
In California, we’re not waiting. Dr. Garen Wintemute, who teaches emergency medicine at UC Davis, got state funding to open the Firearm Violence Research Center. As he told the New York Times, “How many thousands of people are dead today who might have been alive if that research effort had been put in place and we had answered critical questions and set prevention measures in motion?”
Our question: Why are there only seven names on the Price letter? Why isn’t the name of every California representative – including Jeff Denham, Jerry McNerney and Jim Costa – on that letter? Why hasn’t every representative who has ever offered a prayer for an end to violence, for the succor of the victims, signed on?
Is it because the NRA is paying them not to think too deeply about gun violence? Not to ask questions or get answers? If the nation could learn more about gun violence, we might have less of it.
In the meantime, we urge our representatives to continue praying for the victims – past and future – of gun violence. But don’t bother offering up your thoughts; without facts and data, they’re meaningless.