The Politicized Epidemic

The Politicized Epidemic

Every day, on average, 318 people are shot in the United States [1]. Two-thirds live to carry the burden of their injuries, and one-third die from them [1]. In 1996, with help from the National Rifle Association, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment which severely restricted the extent to which the Centers for Disease Control could study gun violence as a public health issue [2]. Two decades - and over half a million deaths later - the federal government still cannot directly study the root causes of gun violence [3]. The United States must pursue an evidence-based approach to stemming gun violence, just as any other health crisis is addressed.

If in place of guns a certain strain of bacteria killed 96 people a day, the federal government would swiftly and undoubtedly declare a national health emergency and allocate the necessary funds to combat it. During the ebola outbreak in 2015, Congress allocated $5.4 billion towards response efforts [4]. Much of the funding was directed at the National Institutes and the Centers for Disease Control for research. In the United States, the infection of two nurses were the only cases in which the disease was transmitted in the country [5]. Another example of a coordinated and uninhibited response is the action taken by the United States to counteract the high rate of automobile deaths. According to the former director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, young drivers were being killed at staggeringly high rates in the 1960s. Congress appropriated, without any opposition, $200 million annually for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conduct research that led to safer automobiles and roadways [6]. According to NHTSA, this research has saved more than 350,000 lives [6]. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that:

Gun violence had 1.6% of the funding predicted ($1.4 billion predicted, $22 million observed) and had 4.5% of the volume of publications predicted (38,897 predicted, 1738 observed) from the regression analyses. Gun violence killed about as many individuals as sepsis. However, funding for gun violence research was about 0.7% of that for sepsis and publication volume about 4%. In relation to mortality rates, gun violence research was the least-researched cause of death and the second-least funded cause of death after falls [7].

Meanwhile, gun deaths are constantly written off as the result of seemingly unpreventable, inconceivable societal evils or simply a price to pay for the preservation of the Second Amendment.

Other countries across the globe have long found the cure for the gun violence disease. Yet, the United States refuses to acknowledge these solutions. In 1996, 35 people were killed in a mass shooting in Port Arthur, Australia [8]. Legislation was passed only 14 days later banning certain types of firearms, imposing strict background checks on all firearm purchases, requiring a 28-day waiting period, creating a gun buyback program, and requiring gun licensing [8]. Australia has not had a single mass shooting since the introduction of the National Firearms Agreement. In Japan, prospective gun owners must attend trainings, undergo strict background checks, and pass psychological evaluations [9]. In 2014 there were just six gun deaths in the country, compared to 33,599 deaths in the United States [10]. Despite maintaining a relatively high rate of gun ownership, Switzerland has strict licensing laws, restricted carrying rules, regulated training procedures, and a deeply-ingrained culture of firearms responsibility [11]. Moreover, in each of these countries, research into the causes of gun violence is encouraged, not stymied.

Despite laws that discourage research by certain federal bodies, other agencies, international organizations, and domestic non-profit groups have assumed the responsibility of pursuing  evidence-based conclusions. Studies suggest that increased gun ownership corresponds with greater gun deaths at the country, state, and town level [12]. People who report having access to a firearm are two times as likely to become victims of homicide and more than three times at the risk of suicide compared to those who do not [13]. States that restrict assault weapons have the lowest homicide rates per capita [14]. An analysis published in Epidemiologic Reviews found that after reviewing the effects of 130 laws in 10 countries, gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders [15]. It is only when legislators are informed by and act upon scientific evidence that effective policies can be implemented.

Systemic hurdles beyond research restrictions include campaign finance laws that allow lobbyists to influence the votes of lawmakers, deeply-rooted cultural issues of toxic masculinity, and the proliferation of firearms in the country. Nonetheless, adequately-funded, politically-neutral research that builds upon an existing wealth of national and international data can help identify effective solutions to the complex problems that contribute to gun violence in the United States.

References:

  1. “Key Gun Violence Statistics”, Brady Campaign. http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics
  2. Wexler Laura, “Gun Shy”, Public Health. https://magazine.jhsph.edu/2017/fall/features/cassandra-crifasi-hopkins-moderate-gun-owner-gun-policy-researcher/how-the-dickey-amendment-affects-gun-violence-research.html
  3. “Guns in the US”, BBC. January 5 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34996604
  4. Kates Jennifer et al., “The US Response to Ebola”, The Kaiser Family Foundation. December 11 2015. https://www.kff.org/global-health-policy/issue-brief/the-u-s-response-to-ebola-status-of-the-fy2015-emergency-ebola-appropriation/
  5. “Second Texas Health Worker Tests Positive for Ebola”, BBC, October 15 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29628622
  6. Rosenberg Mark, “What’s Missing from the Gun Debate”, Politico, February 18 2018. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/02/18/whats-missing-from-the-gun-debate-217022
  7. Wagner Laura, “Gun Violence Should be Treated as a Public Health Crisis”, NPR, January 3 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/03/508037642/study-says-gun-violence-should-be-treated-as-a-public-health-crisis
  8. Lopez German, “I’ve covered gun violence for years. The solutions aren’t a big mystery”, Vox, March 24 2018. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/21/17028930/gun-violence-us-statistics-charts
  9. Fisher Max, “A Land Without Guns”, The Atlantic, July 23 2012. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/07/a-land-without-guns-how-japan-has-virtually-eliminated-shooting-deaths/260189/
  10. Low Harry, “How Japan has Almost Eradicated Crime”, BBC, January 6 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38365729
  11. Brueck Hilary, “Switzerland has a stunningly high rate of gun ownership- here’s why it doesn’t have mass shootings”, Business Insider, March 24 2018. http://www.businessinsider.com/switzerland-gun-laws-rates-of-gun-deaths-2018-2?r=UK&IR=T#swiss-laws-are-designed-to-prevent-anyone-whos-violent-or-incompetent-from-owning-a-gun-8
  12. Fisher Max and Keller Josh, “What Explains US Mass Shootings?”, New York Times, November 7 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html
  13. “Gun Violence: Facts and Statistics”, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, March 2017. https://injury.research.chop.edu/violence-prevention-initiative/types-violence-involving-youth/gun-violence/gun-violence-facts-and#.WrRZZdPwboA  
  14. Schoen John, “States with Strict Gun Laws Have Fewer Firearms Deaths”, CNBC, February 27 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/27/states-with-strict-gun-laws-have-fewer-firearms-deaths-heres-how-your-state-stacks-up.html
  15. Santaella-Tenorino Julian et al., “What Do We Know About the Association Between Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Injuries?”, Epidemiologic Reviews, Volume 38, Issue 1, 1 January 2016, Pages 140–157. https://academic.oup.com/epirev/article/38/1/140/2754868
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