Understanding The Science Behind Gun Violence


"Remember, guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” This maxim was said to me when I got my firearms ID and has been recanted numerous times by proponents of the 2nd Amendment when faced with the conversation on our country’s passion for firearms. And, the truth is that they’re right! Guns in the hands of those bent on destruction and malice towards their fellow members of humanity or themselves are a recipe for disaster. Additionally, guns in untrained hands have also been shown to have the same unfortunate and disastrous outcome. But, the gun itself is simply an object or a tool for that destruction. I think that is important that we attempt to understand the science behind why and how firearm violence occurs. This understanding is critical towards removing the emotion from the gun debate. Hopefully, this will allow us to move towards a position where gun-control and gun-rights advocates can agree on some common sense approaches to reduce its impact on our society.

I recognize that opinions on this topic vary widely. I also know that it is a topic that becomes more emotional than almost any other subject in American political debate today. However, an important nascent move is occurring which I believe we can use to help anchor a thoughtful discussion on this topic. The approach to interjecting scientific evidenced-based research into this arena is not something new. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used to fund studies into the causes of firearms violence. In the mid-90s, Congress took away that funding as they deemed the studies to be tools to “advocate or promote gun control”.

Scientific research at its very core is designed to remove emotion and subjectivity from the study of a particular subject. In fact, Webster’s defines “science” as: knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation. With 89 deaths per day in our country caused by firearms violence we need more than a knee-jerk reaction to address this problem. We need to encourage and support the work of scientific experts with expertise in this field, to arrive at some conclusion about the causes of this violence and a path to reduce its impact on society. Only then can we take meaningful steps to reduce and eliminate this scourge, without impugning anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights.

Many have called the issue of firearms violence a public health issue. The data certainly supports this claim as we look at the financial and social costs that are attributed to its destruction. Experts have pegged the cost of gun violence in our country at $225B a year. But, what all the data has not shown us is what we can do to limit its effects on us all. That is what I hope to accomplish with a proposal I am working on currently. The idea is to have our state’s university, Rutgers, to engage experts in conducting a comprehensive firearms violence study to research firearms-related violence.  Let me state emphatically that the goal of the legislation and the study itself is NOT geared towards a particular outcome or policy position. It is designed to let the data and scientific research help frame the discussion on how to address this problem.

I came to the decision to work on this issue after I read the recent remarks of the man whose amendment limited the Federal research on firearms violence in the mid-90s. Former Congressman Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) changed his mind on this topic and wrote to Congress last year that, “Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners.” And, Congressman Dickey is not alone in calling for this type of research. Dr. Alice Chen, Executive Director of Doctors for America, a national organization of physicians and health policy experts stated that, “Gun violence is probably the only thing in this country that kills so many people, injures so many people, that we are not actually doing sufficient research on.”

I firmly believe that the time is now to engage in this study. Our country spends hundreds of millions annually on traffic safety, food safety and tobacco research, but hardly anything on something that kills almost 33,000 people annually. Congressman Dickey further opined in that letter to Congress, “It is my position that somehow or some way we should slowly but methodically fund such research until a solution is reached. Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution.” And, I emphatically agree. It is my hope that the introduction of this proposal will be a catalyst towards an evidence-based path to reduce the scourge of gun violence. Addressing this issue with science rather than rhetorical talking points is a path forward that I embrace. That’s my take. What’s yours?

Showing 4 reactions

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  • D Fitzpatrick
    commented 2016-04-29 07:30:33 -0400
    Who’s paying for this research? Or r u just throwing money at the college’s?
  • Kevin Mcgonigal
    commented 2016-04-28 16:11:03 -0400
    Overwhelmingly the major number of gun deaths reported as crimes are suicides. Not good, but those bent on self destruction have other readily available means. I am afraid states like NJ have created the worst possible scenario. NJ makes it very difficult to lawfully purchase a firearm (don’t take my word for it. Go into Dicks Sporting Goods and try to buy one). Yet in our cities guns are readily available to our criminal element. So how does NJ deal with this. It makes even stricter laws affecting no one but the law abiding. NJ cannot disarm its criminal element so it perversely disarms its law abiding citizens. Thanks NJ. Now when walking on the streets of Camden or Newark keep this in mind. The only people on the streets with guns are the cops and the crooks. The rest of us are just targets.
  • Sandra Cohen
    commented 2016-04-28 15:15:47 -0400
    Why is it more acceptable to conservatives to regulate people’s bathroom use, medical marijuana and a host of other non-lethal behaviors than to restrict access to deadly weapons? Research was banned because it would inevitably show that the most effective and economical solution to gun violence is to limit production, sale and or access to guns and ammunition.
  • Tom Burcher
    commented 2016-04-28 14:52:05 -0400
    I don’t pretend to know what to do about the problem. However, I did rather a somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggestion from the creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams. A bit long too post here, but worth looking at if you want somewhere to start. I think some of the ideas have merit.