Studying for the test

For the moment, no federal tax dollars will be spent by the Centers for Disease Control in “gun violence research.”  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attempted to get funding restored in recent budget talks, but as expected, Republicans have kept the budget rider that bars such spending intact.

As an academic who is permanently fascinated by science, I find the idea of not providing money for research to be a difficult position for me to adopt.  But this particular political football of desired study is something I can’t support.

One objection that I have is something I raise with advocates of gun control on a regular basis:  What do they want studied?  This isn’t meant to be flippant.  As I discussed in my evaluation of Arthur Kellermann’s claim about the risks of gun ownership, it’s possible to construct a properly conceived study that fairly looks at the realities of gun ownership, but if my money and yours is to be spent, we have a right to ask in what way the money will be used and to accomplish what goals.

And yet when I ask about the specifics of the studies to be done, I get vague answers.  Even people who should know better offer only ambiguities about what they want researched.  Consider the recent article, “Studying gun violence is the only way to figure out how to stop it – but we don’t,” from, an online magazine reporting on the sciences.  We’re informed that we don’t know the psychological effect on families who lose someone to gunfire.  Except that isn’t so.  We’re told that we don’t the risks of substance abuse with regard to violent death.  Except, again, that isn’t so.  We’re offered an analogy with motor vehicle safety, even though guns aren’t cars.  We’re told that we don’t have enough data, even while the FBI collects data on violent crime, including homicide year by year.

Can we seriously say that we don’t know enough about gun violence?  I don’t see how that claim can be sustained.  Now the causes of violence are somewhat murky, especially since we’ve seen a decline in rates of violence over the last several decades, despite economic troubles which traditionally have been seen as a driver of crime.  Answers to the question of why violence happens and what has reduced it include Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that established a legal protection for abortion on the argument that fewer unwanted children mean fewer crimes.  Another answer offered is the removal of lead from gasoline, pointing out the effects of that heavy metal on neurological development and the correlation between quantities of the element used in fuel and the following rates of violence some twenty years later.  We certainly know that a better system of schools across the country would accomplish a great deal in reducing a long list of criminal behaviors.  But that would require hard work, and it’s so much easier to spread vapors about how we need some unspecified new bit of research.

But for the sake of argument, let’s accept for the moment that more research would be a good thing in some identifiable way.  Very well, where are the people like Michael Bloomberg and others of considerable means who regularly advocate for gun control?  Research isn’t banned.  The only restriction is that the CDC may not spend tax dollars on work to advocate for more control.  Any of us may spend our own money either by endowing a research professorship, by promoting a funding campaign, or by mailing in our coin jars.  Certainly the prominent advocates in Hollywood and American politics have resources of their own to support the cause.

But as I said, this subject is a political football, and it’s more effective that way.  As I’ve shown over the course of the articles I write here, the facts are not clearly on the side of gun control and in fact support a good deal of the positions of gun rights.  I suspect the fear of advocates of control is that definitive answers would invalidate their claims.  And so it’s more comfortable for them to demand research—carefully avoiding offering any specific research proposals—while knowing that as long as they do not hold the majority in Congress, they have the blessing of a lasting grievance.

It’s left to us to press home the question, one that should often be asked of them, to be specific.  That usually silences them, and since it’s by their own choice not to give answers, I can’t see that as a bad thing.

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