Hand wringing and regrets fall short of substantive change. Sure, mistakes and tragedies call for a response. But bemoaning repeated mistakes or tragedies without effort to prevent or change their cause signifies acceptance of our powerlessness. We should not be so futile.
Healthy change requires thoughtful study. Then even more thoughtful consideration of options and tradeoffs must be done. I believe this was the model our founders had for our representative democracy. We have not been honoring this model.
Please consider the Dickey Amendment. In 1996, the late Representative Jay Dickey added an amendment to a budget bill that effectively cut off public funding to study gun deaths in this country as a matter of public health. The trigger for Rep. Dickey might have been a CDC supported study published in 1993. It showed that the presence of a firearm in the home increased the risk of homicide. The NRA didn’t like that evidence, so they lobbied Congress to prohibit any federal funding that might influence gun control. And such research funding stopped.
After a 2012 massacre in a Colorado movie theatre, now former Representative Dickey changed his mind. He published an opinion piece in the Washington Post with the CDC Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. They argued that the funding should be restored, and gun violence should be treated like a public health issue.
I am always impressed when a public figure admits a mistake. Too bad it took sixteen years.
Six years after this plea, after Sandy Hook, after Parkland, President Trump and Congress restored a bit of funding to this center to study gun violence. We have a lot to study, to try to figure out.
No such prohibition has ever been applied to the study of traffic fatalities. Over a 50 year span we have invested $200M in research to make our highways less lethal. It is estimated 600,000 lives have been saved. That’s about the same number of people who were the victims of gun violence in the last 20 years in our country.
Maybe my beginning assumption is flawed. Maybe careful study and consideration are not a worthy basis for public policy. Idaho’s State Senator Steve Thayne famously said as much in 2020. He was criticizing public health policy about the Covid pandemic. Steve argued that our founders expected us all to consider our own risks and make our own decisions. In fact, he went so far as to say that listening to experts “leads to totalitarianism.”
I doubt our founders imagined four lane freeways with two-ton cars going 80 miles per hour. If they had, would they have considered traffic laws a reasonable purview for public health policy? It seems most of us agree such careful consideration is worthwhile. I am thankful for the lives saved.
I further doubt our founders considered a six-and-a-half-pound rifle that could fire 45 rounds per minute and be accurate to 600 yards.
With the current hand wringing and pleas for prayers and cries to “do something”, I question the wisdom of all the proposals. It’s not that I think we should do nothing about gun violence. I just can’t support taking a shot in the dark.
We have been prevented from studying this issue for too long. I hope we can find some solutions. I doubt there will be just one answer, and I’m sure there will be tradeoffs.
At least now, maybe, we can open our eyes and see what might work and what might not. Then you can decide if you want to listen to evidence.