The tragic massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, CT on Friday reignited the debate over the solution to America’s gun problem. President Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a task force to examine the available evidence and make recommendations for new policies to prevent the next shooting. But thanks to a concerted, 20-year effort by the National Rifle Association, the available evidence is severely lacking.
While pushing a radical agenda to arm as many people in as many places as possible, the NRA has also maintained a side campaign to quash research into the effects of gun laws. The group successfully lobbied to cut off almost all funding for such studies. The Center for Disease Control, once the main patron of gun violence research, was stripped of funds for firearms research. The agency has not conducted any studies on the matter since 1996. As a result, the debate that arises after each shooting has very little evidence to consider.
Scientists and researchers who want to study why American gun homicides are so much higher than all other developed nations are now dependent on just a few private foundations still willing to brave the wrath of the gun lobby. The NRA has continued its intimidation campaign even as gun violence research becomes virtually nonexistent:
The amount of money available today for studying the impact of firearms is a fraction of what it was in the mid-1990s, and the number of scientists toiling in the field has dwindled to just a handful as a result, researchers say.
The conversation could benefit from improved data on gun possession, acquisition, according to one such researcher, Garen Wintemute. Wintemute was part of a 2011 panel that called for more studies of experimental gun control programs on the local and state levels, as well as more studies on how and where criminals acquire their guns.
Gun control advocates have wasted no time since the elementary school shooting to push for reform, such as bans on assault weapons and on high-capacity clips. The National Rifle Association has preferred to stay silent until their conference on Friday. Still, the group is already trying to stifle the conversation, calling the assault weapons ban “a failed experiment.” But as more NRA-backed lawmakers break from the official line to support gun safety measures, the group may have a hard time keeping others silent.