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The power of knowledge


Mass gun violence is the tip of an iceberg-sized problem surrounding the issue of unrestricted and unregulated private ownership of any type of gun by any person of any age. Many believe this issue to be a Constitutional and God-given right inherent to life in our time, while many opposed consider even the subject of gun ownership to be the embodiment of all that is criminal and evil.

What are offered as solutions fly from both sides, with passionate arguments and earnest entreaties overflowing. But neither side listens to the other, and the result has become toxic. Rationale debate is not feasible. An untenable stalemate looms.

Fundamental to understanding the dilemma may be the realization that neither side truly know what it is talking about. Both sides offer empirical example and intuitive reasoning, and both sides spin raw statistics to support any proposition advanced, but neither speak from a base of actual knowledge – which is impossible, because there is no adequate base of knowledge to work from.

The inadequacy the body of knowledge concerning guns and gun violence is striking – it is essentially non-existent. Since it seems obvious that we may never find an answer to that which we do not understand, this lack of knowledge has to be a critical failing

It is true that there are extensive reports and narratives of every catastrophe that has befallen us over the years. There are press narratives and current reports of the mass shooting, and some results are occasionally tabulated by the press, but that is about all. Complete, reliable and up-to-date statistics are not available. There is no central repository for data. There are no studies examining various aspects of gun usage and comparing alternatives. There is no agency or bureau responsible to coordinate studies or correlate research. There are no reliable publications or journals for the dissemination of scientific or academic research.

As a result, there has been no comprehensive examination of any kind into gun ownership, the circumstances leading to gun violence, the types of guns used and available, the attractions that each holds for given individuals, the potential for abuse, etc. There are plenty of “what’s” and “where’s,” but there are no “why’s” or “how’s.” There has been no attempt to study or compare the events of mass shootings, or of gun violence generally, into the circumstances surrounding them, the guns available, and the individuals involved, in the same manner that events of terrorism are dissected and scrutinized, to see if any data can be extracted.

While huge criticism is being heaped upon law enforcement for failing to spot red flags in advance of the recent shootings in Florida, these are easy calls to make after the fact. The plain fact is that there is no reliable research which has developed answers or protocols of just what are red flags, what these supposed red flags might have meant, or exactly what intervention might have been taken. It is one thing to have a signal that “some” trouble might be brewing and quite another to have a catalog of specific signals to look for to determine what specific event to prevent.

It can be done. We have demonstrated the ability to step in and head off specific terrorist attacks, for example, from just such carefully researched and studied catalogs of potential characteristics, indicia of trouble, of potential individuals involved, and indications of probable action that might be taken to intervene. There are full floors full of resources at the CIA, the FBI, the Department of State and the Pentagon pouring over terrorist activities. There are even academic degrees offered in terrorism and counter-terrorism studies. The value of all this has proved its worth repeatedly.

But if guns in the U.S. are involved, it is a different matter. There are no federal programs for the study of gun violence, and no federal grants or federal resources have been devoted to the effort. Congress, at the behest of the National Rifle Association, has blocked any meaningful research into the subject for decades. The Dickey Amendment, for example, enacted in 1996, essentially prohibited government funds being used for any research into gun violence and every Congress since has refused to revisit this ban.

This should not be tolerated. Congress could immediately repeal the Dickey Amendment and all its entrails. It could immediately empower, and fund as appropriate, thorough research touching on the ownership, use and misuse of guns involved in violence. Get a responsible government agency involved to head it up and coordinate efforts. Offer some academic grants for further studies. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control might be the place to start, or a separate agency if one needs to be created. The problem certainly merits the effort. Eliminate all the restriction on the gathering or dissemination of data, statistics, or studies that presently exist. Any opposition by the National Rifle Association to any inquiry into this subject should be ignored.

There is no partisan divide here. This is not an “either-or” issue, it has nothing to do with the “us or them” mentality that has suddenly become prevalent in discussions between opposing views, and it certainly is not a “slippery slope” of any kind. Despite any protestations of the NRA, increasing our knowledge and understanding in this area cannot be a dangerous or controversial task. It is what we do when faced with what appear to be insurmountable challenges.

Knowledge is the key.

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