Americans need to know hard facts about gun deaths
Vice President Joe Biden's recommendations on gun reforms, scheduled to be released this week, are certain to generate fierce debate, but if there is one matter that both sides of the gun-control debate should agree on, it's that policies should be driven by facts, not emotions. Yet facts about gun violence are hard to come by, thanks to Congress, which eliminated funding for gun-related research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the national agency headquartered in Atlanta once studied gun violence just as it would other factors, such as smoking and teen driving, that affect the public health. But the National Rifle Association in the mid-1990s accused the agency of having an anti-gun bias, and Congress stripped the agency of funding for gun-related research.Since then, the CDC has compiled data on the number of deaths and injuries caused by guns, but has not investigated those deaths. We don't know if the contested research in the 1990s was biased — skewed scientific studies do occur. Miguel Faria, Jr., a former professor of neurosurgery and editor of the Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia, told the Journal-Constitution the CDC started from the premise "that guns and bullets were pathogens that needed to be eradicated or at least severely restricted from the civilian population." If that was so, the studies would have been of dubious value. But that is no justification for halting all gun research at the well-regarded medical center. Steps could have been taken to ensure objectivity without burying the facts. As the Sandy Hook massacre underscored, we need to know more about the misuse of guns, particularly by the mentally ill. Americans also should know whether research shows guns are more likely to protect a household than result in an accident or crime. And as a psychiatry professor pointed out in The Wall Street Journal the other day, murder-suicide, common in mass shootings, is poorly understood. Yes, it's likely leftist politicians would use selected results to attack gun rights. But it is also likely some finding would bolster gun advocates' arguments that the inanimate objects are not the primary cause of mass murders. Unbiased studies could help clarify such issues as whether the unregistered firearms sold under the so-called gun show loophole are indeed a problem. We suspect rigorous studies would show expansive gun control is not the answer to the threat of senseless violence — consider the recent death of a man who was pushed beneath a train by a woman with a history of mental illness and violent episodes. CDC studies could lead to better treatment of the unstable and provide guidance on which individuals are likely to be violent. They also could result in better gun-safety practices. The research might stir some controversy, but Americans deserve to know the cold, hard facts about gun deaths.