Political Animal


December 24, 2012 4:09 PM Don’t Let Scientists Get Near Your Guns!

By Ed Kilgore

As Kevin Drum noted late last week, the theological nature of conservative firearms idolatry has been outrageously confirmed by Republican congressional efforts to suppress federally funded research on the real-life consequences of this or that gun law regime. He and Austin Frakt have drawn attention to a Journal of the American Medical Association article by Arthur Kellermann and Frederick Rivara in response to the Newtown tragedy that should make your blood boil:

The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997. But in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year. Funding was restored in joint conference committee, but the money was earmarked for traumatic brain injury. The effect was sharply reduced support for firearm injury research.
To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the following language was added to the final appropriation: “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up. Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDC’s website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-related violence.

Restrictions on research were later extended from the CDC to all parts of the Department of Health and Human Services. And similar efforts have affected other federal and state agencies.

This isn’t an example of one of those superficially nutty-sounding research areas like the mating habits of monkeys. Injury prevention is a longstanding and legitimate part of public health research. As Kellerman and Rivara note, similar research has led to policy changes that have sharply reduced automobile related deaths and injuries, and also deaths from fires and drowning. The total ban on research dealing with firearms is unique, and only justifiable via “slippery slope” arguments where all inquiry is considered hostile.

That’s what happens when use of a lethal product is placed on a pedestal as central to fundamental liberty and fenced with tripwires and screaming sirens when anyone dares ask questions. It’s far past time for the unconditional elevation of gun rights over human rights to end.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on December 24, 2012 4:35 PM:

    This is why we need the NKA - the National Knife Association!
    So that we can sneak up on the NRA and stick a knife in its black heart - that's if we can find it.

    And yes, I expect some of you to bring up the old "knife to a gunfight" line, and ridicule me with it.

  • conect2u on December 24, 2012 4:55 PM:

    NKA, lol! :D

    Attempting to stab the NRA in the heart would be a fruitless endeavor, they don't have one.

  • Bose in St. Peter MN on December 24, 2012 6:43 PM:

    Suicide research offers an appropriate example here.

    Spikes in suicide attempts and deaths were studied for possible signs of contagion -- that conditions in some communities might correlate with longer spikes in suicide rates, but not in other communities.

    The data is often misunderstood, but is pretty clear. Sustained spikes occurred more often if the community and media response to suicide included lurid descriptions of the methods used, if suicide victims were held up as heroes, if the media and community treated suicide as a rational or inevitable outcome, and a number of others.

    Local media often misinterprets this, along with family shame, as reason not to cover suicide directly at all. Erring in the other direction, death by suicide gets covered as if there was a simple, unitary trigger -- which is almost never true.

    Contagion is the obvious elephant in the room related to mass shootings. We need to, and would already, know more if epidemiologists had been allowed to do their work in recent decades.

  • jjm on December 24, 2012 9:30 PM:

    All honest, probing and well conceived research into social realities got dropped after the 1970s, largely, I suspect, for reasons like these. It 'offended' some lobbying group.

  • jhm on December 25, 2012 7:03 AM:

    The intent of the legislature—to limit research which they feel likely to produce factual conclusions that they would rather avoid having to ignore—should make you blood boil. It should turn to plasma when you consider that their ham fisted, incompetent and lazy approach to legislating made their efforts to effect this result so ill defined and potentially devastating to the budgets of researchers that many ancillary topics are avoided as well just to be sure that the wingers won't come after other legitimate work.

  • zandru on December 25, 2012 6:23 PM:

    superficially nutty-sounding research areas"

    I saw a reference to one of these weirdo research papers in the paper a few days ago: dielectric properties of various fruits and veg. Bizarre, huh?

    However, it was used by folks studying how to set up wifi on board passenger aircraft which would have good coverage in all seats and minimal impact on aircraft control systems. Instead of exposing actual people to radiation (hour after boring hour) or having expensive dielectrically-correct plastic replicas made, researchers were able to load in sacks of potatoes. Several sacks per seat (two on the floor to simulate legs) and viola! Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution.

    Just giving you a break from the endless gun massacre news...