The last couple of years have been surprisingly forward looking in the political arena. Despite Republican hegemony in Congress and in a number of statehouses, we've seen issues that were once nowhere on the radar screen -- topics like paying workers a living wage or curbing police brutality -- zoom into focus. It was striking today to see Philadelphia City Council stand up for a $12 wage for airport workers and balk, for now anyway, at land for a new prison -- two progressive moves that would have seemed unlikely a short time ago.
And then there's guns.
It was little more than two years ago that the nation was still grieving the slaughter of kindergartners and 1st-graders in Newtown, Conn., and a slew of proposals for more rational gun laws wasn't just part of a progressive agenda...it was front and center. But when Congress, cowed once again by the National Rifle Association, refused to pass even the most modest agenda item, stepped-up background checks.
It was time, America concluded, to give it up. President Obama did make some small administrative changes, including reversing barriers to federal public health studies of gun violence. Today, a new academic report on state gun laws makes one realize why the gun lobby is so anti-research.
A 1995 Connecticut law requiring a permit or license – contingent on passing a background check – in order to purchase a handgun was associated with a 40 percent reduction in the state's firearm-related homicide rate, new research suggests.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, compared Connecticut's homicide rates during the 10 years following the law's implementation to the rates that would have been expected had the law not been implemented. The large drop in homicides was found only in firearm-related killings, not in homicides by other means, as would be expected if the law drove the reduction.
Understood, as someone is sure to point out, that the law didn't prevent Newtown, but large mass killings of that kind have defied many laws as well as all reason. The Hopkins study shows that "everyday" gun violence was greatly reduced by background checks. Now, it would be interesting to compare this to a state that had actually weakened its gun laws...
This matters...a lot. So many of the conversations that we're having right now -- about the too-high murder rates in Baltimore and other post-industrial cities, or the climate of fear and distrust between the police and the policed, have their roots in a situation that nobody wants, which is too many guns on the street. And it's a problem we have the power to do something about.
Just not the courage or the will.
Have a great weekend.