As an American college student, I’m pretty aggravated. Just a few weeks ago, Swarthmore students were caught up in a scare related to a threat of violence to Philadelphia schools that was eerily similar to the one made before the Oregon shooting. What at one point would have been considered the hoax of some internet troll had become a serious threat to the safety of college students in the entire Philadelphia area. Unfortunately, threats like this are common in the United States, with gun violence becoming a significant cause for concern among many citizens, particularly students, in the past few years. The gun violence prevention debate thus centers around one question: Can anything be done to reduce the incidence of gun violence in the United States?
Interestingly enough, it appears that the majority Americans agree that something at the structural level has to change, whether it is more or less restrictions on gun ownership, more background checks or better access to mental health care (although psychosis and violence are not strongly linked, so it is fallacious to presume that psychosis is a significant catalyst for violent behavior). Gun violence is an issue that Americans do care about, so it is unlikely that civic apathy is directly to blame here.
Tuning in to gun politics in the United States is beyond frustrating. Democrats and Republicans frequently make unsubstantiated claims regarding the implications of gun violence statistics in order to further their political agendas, coloring facts with personal ideologies that abstract the gun debate into a culture war. The reality is that there is a heinous lack of rigorous scientific inquiry into the causes of gun violence in the United States. We simply cannot infer causation based on the data available to us at the moment, but this lack of data isn’t simply because of disinterest. Rather, the fault can be traced to the influence of the National Rifle Association on Congress. In 1996, the Center for Disease Control self-imposed a ban on firearm research as a response to the NRA’s accusation of promoting gun control and the consequent pressure from Congress to strip the CDC’s funding. CDC funding for firearm injury prevention fell 96 percent from 1996 to 2013 as a result. This had a chilling effect beyond the CDC’s research, as nearly no funding was relegated to gun violence studies in academia, while those few studies that were conducted had to obfuscate any connection to firearms.
It is clear that the main deterrent for a scientific investigation into the causes of gun violence and effective solutions for stemming violence is the NRA. The group has massive lobbying power in Congress and as a result holds significant sway over the course of gun laws in the nation. It seems that campaign expenditures and the NRA’s infamous rating system have done a good job of keeping lawmakers in line with the organization’s values. The vast majority of these expenditures and high ratings are afforded to Republicans, which helps explain the nigh impossibility of gun reform proposals passing the House of Representatives.
Seeking to delve further, I decided to take a look at the National Rifle Association’s website. What I saw was frightening. I wasn’t able to stay long for fear of the damaging effects on my intelligence from reading the NRA publication “America’s 1st Freedom,” a magazine in which the NRA releases their “Daily Threat Assessment for your Firearm Freedoms.” Columnists for this magazine pride themselves on slinging ad hominem attacks at their opponents and dismantling the arguments of straw men. I became depressed by the realization that the organization defending one of the fundamental amendments to the United States Constitution was just as bad, if not worse, than the politicians embroiled in the gun debate. I was forced to promptly exit the browser.
The future of gun violence prevention in this country rests on the ability of Congress and researchers to overcome the chilling effects of the NRA’s influence on scientific investigation into the nature of gun crimes. The NRA’s unbridled and unapologetic attachment to their ideology, while apparently heroic to NRA supporters and certain gun rights advocates, unfortunately borders on the maniacal. Such a culturally normative nation as America is expected to be littered with ideologues, but for them to hold so much sway over reforms is a bit ridiculous. I wonder, does the NRA realize it is as tyrannical in pursuing gun rights as the straw state it despises is in taking them away?
If the answer to gun violence prevention aligns with the solutions proposed by gun rights advocates, gun control advocates would never know, and vice versa. It is one thing to find issue with a study on the grounds that there is a significant error or mishandling of the data, but it is another entirely to discourage any studies on the account that they are against your ideological preferences. Stop drinking the kool-aid and let the data do the talking, I say.
“Americans’ Desire for Stricter Gun Laws Up Sharply.” Gallup.com. October 19, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2015.
How often and how consistently do symptoms directly precede criminal behavior among offenders with mental illness? Peterson, Jillian K.; Skeem, Jennifer; Kennealy, Patrick; Bray, Beth; Zvonkovic, Andrea Law and Human Behavior, Vol 38(5), Oct 2014, 439-449. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/lhb0000075
“Guns.” PollingReport.com. Accessed October 21, 2015. http://www.pollingreport.com/guns.htm. Polling report is an aggregate site for a variety of polls taken on U.S. citizens.
“Gun Violence Research: History of the Federal Funding Freeze.” American Psychological Association. February 1, 2013. Accessed October 21, 2015.
“How the NRA Exerts Influence over Congress.” Washington Post. January 15, 2013. Accessed October 21, 2015.