As President Obama lays out plans for executive and legislative action to reduce injuries and deaths from firearms and New York State approves a sweeping package of gun control measures, health advocates have new opportunities to inform the public debate. A few recent reports will assist in this task.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a new report Access Denied How the Gun Lobby is Depriving Police, Policy makers and the Public of the Data We Need to Prevent Gun Violence. The report asserts that:
Information is central to the American idea. It fuels our economy, keeps our elected officials accountable, and guides our public policy choices. But not always. Since the 1990s, the Washington gun lobby has led an aggressive effort to limit what we know about firearms. And it has largely succeeded.
The report describes how the gun industry and the National Rifle Association have advocated policies that restrict scientists, law enforcement officials, the military and doctors from gathering the evidence that could inform more effective policies. The Mayors’ group makes these recommendations to end the evidence blackout:
For nearly two decades, the U.S. has failed to make progress in reducing gun violence and gun crime because it has refused to look at them, to research them, and to talk about them. To make progress in the future, the federal government must revive research on firearms and remove restrictions on the use of information that can reduce crime and save lives.
Elected officials should take the following steps:
- Remove “policy riders” on federal appropriations bills that limit firearms research at the CDC and NIH and provide appropriate funding to study the role of firearms on public health.
- Fully fund the National Violent Death Reporting System and expand it to all 50 states to improve our understanding of the role firearms play in fatalities.
- Reconstitute the research program on gun trafficking at the National Institute of Justice to update and expand our understanding of the market for illegal guns.
- Resume the publication of Justice Department reports on illegal gun markets and trafficking patterns.
- Rescind the Tiahrt Amendments.
- Expand the bulk sale reporting program for assault weapons to include all 50 states.
An investigation by George Zornick, “How Walmart Helped Make the Newtown Shooter’s AR-15 the Most Popular Assault Weapon in America”, published in the Nation magazine examines how Walmart became the largest gun and ammunition retailer in the country. The Bushmaster AR-15 used by Lanza in the Newtown massacre is familiar to many Walmart shoppers. It’s on sale at about 1,700 Walmart stores nationwide, though the retail chain pulled the weapon from its website three days after the attack. Zornick reports that in 2006:
The chain announced that it was rolling back gun sales, citing declining profit margins on the relatively expensive weapons, which even at Walmart can retail for hundreds of dollars. But in 2011, company executives were looking at eight straight quarters of declining sales at stores open for a year or more—the worst slump in Walmart’s history.
This report shows that the ready access to guns that contributes to the nation’s high gun death rates is not mainly the result of a few shady gun dealers but of business deals between America‘s largest corporations that are looking to maximize profits by any means necessary.
Finally, Johns Hopkins University this week convened more than 20 global experts for a summit on gun policy and violence to summarize relevant research and its implications for policymakers and concerned citizens. “The(se) research-informed measures address not only mass shootings but also the less publicized U.S. gun violence that takes an average of 30 lives every day,” said Summit organizer Jon Vernick, JD, MPH, co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We can reduce this number through implementation of such measures as expanding conditions which would prohibit high-risk individuals from possessing guns, strengthening the background check system by covering all firearm sales, and ensuring that necessary records for prohibited individuals are available.”