Earlier this month, the bullies at the National Rifle Association told doctors who want to reduce gun violence, to "stay in their lane." The NRA was responding to a paper from the American College of Physicians published in the Annals of Internal Medicine outlining a series of steps to reduce firearm injuries and deaths The NRA's swipe at what it called "self-important anti-gun doctors" unleashed a torrent of responses from the very people who brave the front lines. On social media, physicians are sharing photos of themselves in blood-splattered scrubs and surgical masks — images of the gruesome work they have to do because our government is so cowed by the gun industry that it barely tries to control carnage.
Every year, almost 125,000 people are shot to death or injured, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. About 35,000 die.
If gun violence was any other public health crisis, the government would marshal its forces to find causes and treatments.
But even basic research into who is inclined to shoot and why is scarce because the $51 billion gun industry and its mouthpiece, the NRA, have browbeaten Congress and administrations for decades into stifling gun-violence studies at the Centers for Disease Control. The research could help us find better ways to curtail the constant bloodshed.
In 1995, just two years after Congress passed the Brady bill requiring background checks for gun buyers, the gun lobby shot back. They convinced Congress to prohibit the CDC from spending money on research that called for a cure to the pernicious disease of gun violence. In 1996, with the Dickey Amendment, the NRA's puppets in Congress stopped the CDC from studying gun violence as a public health issue. If the CDC studied gun control as a public health issue, it may very well conclude that guns have to be controlled, just as if they were a virus.
Universities, private foundations, and states have done important research, but anything that kills and injures roughly 125,000 people a year deserves the full weight of the federal government to stop it, starting with research into the scope and causes of the problem as well as the effectiveness of solutions. Five years ago, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council drew a road map for research that included studying the characteristics of people who acquire guns, how they use them and who they share them with as well as evaluating the risks of having a gun in the home and deepening our understanding of the effectiveness of gun-prevention programs.
The new Democratic-majority in Congress should keep its promise to the voters who rejected more than a dozen pro-NRA candidates, who want to be able to go to a church, a synagogue, a dance club, a supermarket, and to school without getting shot. Congress should stand up to an industry that thrives on bloodshed and repeal restrictions to gun research and appropriate money to find the cause and scope of the problem, so it can solve it.