Commonsense approach to gun research needed

Our view: President's proposals deserve our support; write your elected officials
2013-01-20T00:00:00Z Commonsense approach to gun research needed Arizona Daily Star
January 20, 2013 12:00 am

Type the word "gun" into the Centers for Disease Control website in a quest for research on gun violence and this link comes up:

"Nailing Down the Need for Nail Gun Safety."

This example is a simple illustration of the need for commonsense information gathering and sharing included in the gun-control proposal President Obama released last week.

The CDC keeps track of any number of ways Americans injure and kill each other and themselves, and nail-gun safety has its place. Nail-gun mishaps prompt about 37,000 emergency room visits annually.

Gun-related homicides and suicides kill roughly 30,000 people each year. Guns play a part in killing thousands of Americans, yet the federal government's premiere public health and research agency has been hamstrung from supporting research into the causes of gun violence or the effectiveness of prevention steps.

Obama has issued an executive order that ends this freeze. This, plus directives that clarify the Affordable Care Act, allows medical professionals to discuss guns with their patients. It will have a positive effect on understanding the role guns play in the death and injury of Americans.

Researchers who study gun-related violence are few and far between, according to reporting by The New York Times and Washington Post. In 1996, Congress, under pressure from the National Rifle Association, passed legislation that prohibited the CDC from spending federal dollars on research to "advocate or promote gun control."

Such a squishy definition meant that almost anything could be construed as violating that rule, or so the CDC and researchers feared.

The CDC spent about $2.5 million on gun-related research in early 1990s, according to the Washington Post. It spends about $100,000 on that today.

Obama's move opens up a field that begs for serious, thoughtful and sound research.

The gun discussion is fraught with statements presented as fact about how many crimes were prevented by guns, how often a gun is used against its owner, and the like. Figures are thrown around in ways that could make convincing arguments one way or the other, but with such a dearth of data and research, it's difficult to move forward.

We, as a nation, need to know at the macro level how guns are used and by whom so trends can be identified and analyzed.

We need the ability to evaluate possible correlations between the number of guns and crime rates, to dispassionately look at what measures improve safety and what measures do not.

And we must be unafraid to go where the data suggest - which will, we predict, be difficult on all sides of the gun-control discussion. Research that finds results a particular group or individual does not like does not nullify the validity of the information.

Obama has also made it clear that no federal law keeps health-care providers from alerting police to threats of violence. Federal health privacy laws do not curtail this kind of information sharing, and it is crucial that medical professionals understand these rules.

Similarly, Obama's plan makes it plain that - contrary to some representations - the Affordable Care Act does not keep doctors from bringing up guns and gun safety with their patients.

Medical professionals ask patients myriad questions to help assess if a person is at risk for harm or death. It is common sense that they should include guns and gun safety in those queries.

Asking a person who is suicidal if they have access to a gun is not trampling a person's Second Amendment rights - it's a matter of evaluating risk of injury or death, for the individual as well as their family and community.

Other portions of Obama's plan are measures we have long supported.

Every gun purchase should be subject to a background check; limits should be placed on how many bullets an ammunition magazine can hold - the president says the cap should be at 10 rounds - and the 1994 assault-weapons ban should be reinstated and reinforced.

These are sensible steps that millions of Americans, including gun owners and members of the NRA, support.

Some of the changes Obama can do, and has done, by executive order. But Congress must act on others, such as the assault-weapons ban and funding for other initiatives.

The NRA and gun lobby have the ear of politicians, and they speak with the bravado of those who know that history shows many lawmakers will go along with the loudest voices and deepest pockets.

The NRA is saying, as if it were a fact, that Congress will never pass a weapons ban.

The future doesn't have to follow the same playbook as the past. Obama has put forward a practical, moderate and doable plan for gun control.

If you support Obama's plan, please make sure your elected officials know. He can't do it alone.

Arizona Daily Star

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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