Safety Squeeze

Jewish Light Editorial

Public policy that ignores data and research is bad. Public policy that deliberately prevents the accumulation of data through research is worse.

Missouri public policy discussion on guns right now is bad. Very bad. It comes down to rabid zealots in the state legislature trying to convince us that more concealed guns on college campuses is a good idea to combat — well, to combat gun deaths on campus.

This sad and rationally indefensible state of affairs was presented to the country and world this week when the New York Times ran a story about data showing a notable increase in gun deaths in Missouri since the legislature removed certain regulations related to registration and ownership, and lowered the concealed carry age to 19.

The story, in Monday’s Times, cites a study on Missouri from Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. According to the story, “in the first six years after the state repealed the requirement for comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, the gun homicide rate was 16 percent higher than it was the six years before. During the same period, the national rate declined by 11 percent.”

The article points out that there’s debate on whether the increase (which apparently continued at even a higher rate in 2014) was caused by the relaxation of the regulatory landscape. That’s fine; public debate on actual science is healthy and constructive. But here’s where the federal ban on research comes in.

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Those organizations like the National Rifle Association, which lobby aggressively to remove gun restrictions and prevent new ones, have made it extremely hard to utilize research in public policy discussions. That’s in part because the gun lobby has utilized Congress to essentially preclude the Centers for Disease Control and federal government from performing most research on the public health and safety aspects of guns in our society.

This is of course a cruel joke. We fund research to ensure that cars, highways, planes, railroads, hospitals, factories, drugs, chemicals, building construction and many, many other risk factors in America are managed properly through appropriate regulation and enforcement. Guns, not so much.

As a CNN report from earlier in December indicated, there are so many issues that we don’t yet have data-driven answers to that could be aided by federal research (and CDC in particular):

• “Would a federal assault weapons ban save lives or cost lives?

• “State laws allowing people to carry concealed weapons are supposed to deter crime, since attackers never know who’s carrying a gun. Have these laws worked out that way?

• “If gun owners had to register their weapons with the government, would fewer people die from gun violence? Would more die?

• “Are certain types of people more likely to commit to gun violence than others? If the answer is yes, what’s the best way for authorities to reach out to these people?

• “Do background checks help save lives? What questions, if any, should be asked of someone who wants to buy a gun? Questions about the person’s criminal record? Their psychiatric record? Something else?”

The same CNN story points out that federal and other research on engineering, seat belts, road signs and other accident-related matters caused motor vehicle deaths from 2004-2013 to decline by almost a quarter.

But the slippery slope argument that’s used to resist both research and regulation — that more stringently regulated gun ownership, possession and location will be the first step in removing all guns from a country with 300 million of them — is patently absurd. We drive cars, take drugs, go to sporting events in facilities highly regulated by building codes. Those elements of life are hardly disappearing.

Without more data and research, we’re destined to rely on an uneducated and unhelpful public debate on the matter. Which truly plays into the hands of the most aggressive gun advocates, who can simply fall back on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution without any consideration that neither modern-day guns and societal issues bear almost no resemblance to the national landscape of the late 18th century.

Instead of listening to the most-monied and most rabid gun advocates, we prefer to look at the world around us and pay attention to the data we collect and analyze. And in our opinion, when our college students are threatened with the potential for concealed guns all around them during their supposedly idyllic time of life, the burden is on those who advocate for proliferation to show us scientifically, not through unfounded and highly-funded advocacy, how that would make our kids safer.