More than just calling for a ban on assault weapons, Obama moves to reinstate federal research on gun violence over the NRA’s objections

The gun control debate in the United States went into overdrive today, as the President, surrounded by children who had written letters to the White House about gun violence, called on Congress “to renew a prohibition on assault weapons sales that expired in 2004, require criminal background checks on all gun purchases, including closing a loophole for gun show sales, and pass a new federal gun trafficking law – long sought by big-city mayors to keep out-of-state guns off their streets.” In addition, he referenced 23 executive actions which he intends to take immediately, which would not require the approval of Congress. These, we were told, would address a number of related issues, ranging from the improvement of the current system used for background checks, to the funding of more counselors and “resource officers” in schools. Most interestingly, at least to me, Obama promised, through executive action, to lift the ban on federal research into gun violence… Yes, apparently, several years ago, at the behest of the NRA, Congress had acted to prevent the federal government from funding research on gun violence. Here, with more on that, is a clip from the fact sheet distributed by the White House this morning.

Conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence: The President is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and scientific agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. It is based on legal analysis that concludes such research is not prohibited by any appropriations language. The CDC will start immediately by assessing existing strategies for preventing gun violence and identifying the most pressing research questions, with the greatest potential public health impact. And the Administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.

Better understand how and when firearms are used in violent death: To research gun violence prevention, we also need better data. When firearms are used in homicides or suicides, the National Violent Death Reporting System collects anonymous data, including the type of firearm used, whether the firearm was stored loaded or locked, and details on youth gun access. Congress should invest an additional $20 million to expand this system from the 18 states currently participating to all 50 states, helping Americans better understand how and when firearms are used in a violent death and informing future research and prevention strategies.

Now, here’s the background, from NBC News.

…From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the CDC conducted original, peer-reviewed research into gun violence, including questions such as whether people who had guns in their homes gained protection from the weapons. (The answer, researchers found, was no. Homes with guns had a nearly three times greater risk of homicide and a nearly five times greater risk of suicide than those without, according to a 1993 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.)

But in 1996, the NRA, with the help of Congressional leaders, moved to suppress such information and to block future federal research into gun violence, (Dr. Mark Rosenberg, president of the Task Force for Global Health and director of the CDC’s Center for Injury Prevention and Control from 1994 to 1999) said…

One of the main researchers that the NRA was seeking to shut down was Emory’s Art Kellermann, whose research had shown, among other things, that “a gun kept in the home was 43 times more likely to be involved in the death of a member of the household than to be used in self-defense.”

The following is from NPR:

…Kellermann says the National Rifle Association and other Second Amendment advocates leaned on his then-employer, Emory University, to stop the research. That didn’t work.

So, he says, “they turned to a softer target, which was the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the organization that was funding much of this work. And although gun injury prevention research was never more than a tiny percentage of the CDC’s research budget, it was enough to bring them under the fire of the NRA.”

Lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — held back some money from the CDC and made clear that no federal funds should be used to promote gun control.

Many researchers interpreted that message to mean no public health studies about injuries from weapons.

Then, a few years later, Congress weighed in again, in a slightly different way.

In 2003, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Republican from Kansas, added language to the Justice Department’s annual spending bill. It says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can’t release information used to trace guns involved in crime to researchers and members of the public. It also requires the FBI to destroy records on people approved to buy guns within 24 hours…

How fucking insidious is that?

It’s one thing, in my opinion, to lobby on behalf of gun owners – it’s another to actively restrict data which you know would not only undermine your claims, but show then to be pure fiction. I don’t like it, but I can accept that the NRA is attempting to put armed volunteers in our nations’s schools. I can even accept that they’re willing to appeal to the basest reptilian instincts of their supporters in the hopes of keeping the (highly profitable) status quo, as they did this morning, when they released an utterly offensive ad about Obama’s daughters. It was tasteless and disgusting, but I guess I’ve come to expect that from an organization that would put out a kids’s shooting game just days after blaming the Sandy Hook shootings on video games. What I can’t accept, though, is that these people would try to hide information, in an attempt to keep us from making informed decisions. That, to me, is beyond the pale… and I can’t believe that I hadn’t heard about it until just now.

If you’d rather we not have the information, though, you may be in luck. Word is that Rand Paul has a plan for stopping Obama from implementing these executive actions.

Speaking of this new NRA ad, which accuses Obama of being an “elitist hypocrite” for not trying to get Secret Service protection for every child in America, here it is, followed by the reaction of the panel on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Sadly, I think that this is just the start. Things are going to get a lot uglier, a lot more volatile, and a lot crazier.

Speaking of crazy, I have two more gun-related things to share tonight. First, Glenn Beck’s favorite historian, David Barton, whom I wrote about just yesterday, has come out advocating for the arming of school children. And, second, the Sandy Hook “truther” movement is apparently picking up steam, with more and more people ascribing to the belief that the events were orchestrated by the federal government, and that no one was actually killed. (The people we saw on television apparently weren’t really grieving parents, but “crisis actors” hired by FEMA. The whole thing, it would seem, was nothing more than a morbid government-orchestrated flash mob.) My intention was to write a post about it, but I just stumbled upon an incredible Metafilter piece which pulls together all the pieces, so I don’t have to… You should really check it out… It’s terrifying stuff.

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  1. Edward
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I wish I hadn’t followed that Sandy Hook Truther link. That’s the most upsetting thing I’ve read in a long time. I can’t believe that the families of dad children now have to be harassed by fools presenting “evidence” that their children aren’t really dead.

  2. Dr. Dave
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    A visual which, I think, makes clear the importance of having scientific data when making decisions on issues like these.

  3. Meta
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Howard Dean: ‘NRA headquaters is populated by crazy people’; Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean reacts to new NRA ad about President Obama’s daughters. He told MSNBC’s lawrence O’Donnell that ”this is no longer about the Second Amendment. This is about raising money on hate.”


  4. Elliott
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I wish I could pay attention to this gun stuff, but did you hear that Manti Te’o was “catfished”?!!!

  5. XXX
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    The Atlantic Cities blog has a list of 9 things that they think should be researched once the ban on researching gun violence is lifted.

    1. How many guns are there? There is plenty of good data on the number of gun incidents per year at the city, state and national scales. But we don’t have a number for how many guns exist. Most current estimates peg the number nationally at about 300 million, but this is hardly a reliable count. We’d also be curious to know how gun figures differ by city and region.

    2. How do guns get into the hands of people who use them to commit crimes? More specifically, do most criminals obtain those guns illegally? Through loopholes? Were the people who obtained them subjected to background checks? Also, many guns are used in more than one crime, explains Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia Law School, and often by more than one person. How do guns move through neighborhoods and social networks?

    3. Who should be excluded from owning a gun? Media reports often make the assumption that the mentally ill in particular should be screened from gun access. But there is no real research, for instance, on the link between schizophrenia and the likelihood of committing gun violence.

    4. Do magazine limits actually work? New York state passed a law just this week limiting the number of bullets legally allowed in a magazine to seven, and President Obama has proposed federal legislation setting that number at 10. Will such policies have an impact, particularly in the cases of incidents involving a lone, active shooter?

    5. Why do people own guns? This seems like an obvious question, but we’d love to know more: For most people, is it a question of personal safety? Hunting? Politics? Are there policies we could implement that would reduce the need many people feel to keep firearms handy? Do people own guns in cities for different reasons than they own guns in rural areas?

    6. Is there a relationship between levels of gun ownership and levels of crime? The NRA says we can only stop bad people with guns by deploying more good people with guns. But surely we could develop research to actually answer this question. Does gun violence generally rise as gun ownership does in a given community, or is the opposite true?

    7. What percentage of the entire universe of gun owners commits gun crimes? We’re guessing this is a pretty small number, and that most moderate gun owners would like to have the answer out there in the public domain.

    8. How are gun crimes and gun ownership spatially distributed? Within cities, do gun owners cluster? Why are some neighborhoods hotbeds for gun violence, and what distinguishes those places from others?

    9. How do guns move from producer to consumer? Where are people legally buying guns? And how do guns leak into the black market? How many guns go missing and what are the implications?

  6. Posted January 17, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I was going to write about this about a month ago (the research ban), but then didn’t after I thought about being inundated with trolls and right wingers.

  7. Mr. X
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    “Former CDC Director Says NRA “Terrorized” Gun Violence Researchers”

  8. Elf
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I like that he’s suggesting we invest in studies looking into how video games might feed into this. I know that millions of people are able to play first-person shooter games without turning to violence in their “real” lives, but, when you hear about the Sandy Hook school shooter playing Call of Duty for days at a time, you have to wonder if there’s a connection. I don’t think that we should be reactionary and just pull these games off the shelf, but we need to start doing the research which will inform that decision.

  9. Posted January 17, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    I read about the nice man in CT who is being threatened and basically terrorized because he helped some of the children & (OMG!) spoke out about it afterwards. Can you even believe that? In a thousand goddamned years will that ever make any sense to you? He helped some children & their bus driver and he is being hounded. Would this happen in, say, Canada or some other sane place? What the hell is wrong with this place?

  10. Posted January 17, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    Oh, duh! He’s the first person mentioned in the Metafilter (Guess I shoulda clicked on that first :))

  11. anonymous
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Michelle Malkin said President Obama using children to promote gun reforms was “a form of child abuse and political malpractice, very toxic.” Who else would do such a thing? George W. Bush.

  12. Meta
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    The New Yorker has a great piece on why we need better gun data today.

    Unfortunately, though, the entire subject is plagued by misinformation and ignorance. It isn’t just a matter of gun nuts denying the obvious: countries with lots of guns, such as the U.S., have lots of gun violence. It goes well beyond that. To the enormous benefit of gun lobbyists and armaments manufacturers, and to the great detriment of the public interest, many basic facts about the proliferation of firearms, and its effects on American society, remain obscured or unavailable.

    How many guns are there in the United States? Nobody knows for sure. (Estimates vary from two hundred and fifty million to more than three hundred million.) Who owns all these weapons? Nobody can say. Unlike in many other advanced countries, there is no national registry of gun owners. Outside of states like New York and Connecticut, which require handgun permits, there aren’t even any local records. Does owning a gun really make you safer? Hard to know. A study done twenty years ago suggested it didn’t. Since then, though, the federal government has largely stopped sponsoring such research. What types of guns are used in violent crimes? Again, our answers are partly guesswork. While many local police forces record the weapons used in individual crimes, and some states, such as California, collate the figures, there isn’t a proper national database.

    At least, there wasn’t. Now, finally, things may well be changing for the better. Largely ignored among the twenty-three executive actions that the White House unveiled on Wednesday were two initiatives that will help shed more light on gun culture and its effects. At first glance, both of them seem pretty modest. But in the long run, they could conceivably have as much impact on gun violence as the President’s more widely discussed proposals, such as renewing the ban on assault weapons.

    One important step that Obama took was lifting an effective freeze on federally financed research into the causes and effects of gun violence. During the eighties and early nineties, numerous studies of this nature were carried out under the auspices of the Centers for Disease Control—and they generated some fascinating facts, such as the finding that households with guns were three times more likely to have homicides and five times more likely to have suicides than homes without guns. Not surprisingly, the gun lobby didn’t like this research agenda, and, through its agents in Congress, it put pressure on C.D.C. officials to withdraw its funding. “Basically, they’ve been terrorized by the N.R.A.,” Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who headed the C.D.C.’s Center for Injury Prevention and Control from 1994 to 1999, told NBC News. If Obama gets his way, this climate of fear will be removed. In the fact sheet accompanying the executive orders, the White House said, “The CDC will start immediately by assessing existing strategies for preventing gun violence and identifying the most pressing research questions, with the greatest potential public health impact.”

    Obama’s second step was just as important. Noting that to “research gun violence prevention, we need better data,” he called for the creation of a national database devoted to firearms and violent crime. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Professor David Hemenway and his colleagues at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, the basis for such a project already exists. It’s called the National Violent Death Reporting System (N.V.D.R.S.), and it collates information from police records, coroners’ reports, death certificates, and other public records in eighteen states. Since 2002, it has been run by the C.D.C.

    The problem with the N.V.D.R.S. is that it’s underfunded and doesn’t cover great swaths of the country, including states like Florida and Louisiana, where there are lots of gun deaths. Obama wants to spend twenty million dollars to expand the database to all fifty states, which is an excellent idea. Although gathering more data may seem like a minor step, over time it can have a big impact—on policy making and on the phenomenon that is being tracked.

    The model here is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the precursor to which began collating information on road deaths in the mid-sixties. Before then, there were lots of road fatalities, and lots of theories about what caused them, but few hard facts. By collecting detailed information on every road death—such as the make, model, and year of the car; the speed at which it was travelling; and which seats the passengers were sitting in—the N.H.T.S.A. transformed policy making. “We know what works,” Hemenway explained in a 2004 interview. “We know that speed kills, so if you raise speed limits, expect to see more highway deaths. Motorcycle helmets work; seat belts work. Car inspections and driver education have no effect. Right-on-red laws mean more pedestrians hit by cars.”

    Since the late nineteen-sixties, when policy makers started getting serious about preventing road deaths, the annual number of motor-vehicle fatalities relative to the total population has been cut in half. With better data and better policy, there is no reason why we shouldn’t see a similar reduction in gun fatalities, which are currently running at about thirty thousand a year. (About a third are homicides; most of the rest are suicides.)

    That’s assuming, of course, that Obama’s proposals are put into effect, which isn’t a sure thing because they require Congressional funding. The sums involved are small—an extra ten million dollars for the C.D.C.’s research budget, and twenty million dollars to pay for the national database. Taken together, the additional spending would be equivalent to about a tenth of the N.R.A.’s annual budget.

    Who could be against expending such a modest sum on gathering information that could well end up saving thousands of lives every year? We all know the answer to that question. In this instance, they mustn’t be allowed to prevail.

    Read more:

  13. Meta
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Heckling the parents of slain children.

    The father of one of the young victims of the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown gave testimony last night at the Connecticut General Assembly, but was interrupted by gun advocates.

    Neil Heislin, whose son Jesse was killed by Adam Lanza during the school shooting, was speaking to legislators to urge them to make changes to laws around guns. The teary father said “changes have to be made…The worst day of my life was the day when this happened…Why do we need 30-round magazines or cartridges?” Heislin also said that “the sole purpose of those AR-15s or AK-47s is to put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly, and that’s what they do. And that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary School on the 14th.”

    The CT Mirror reports that when Heislin “wondered aloud how such guns [like the AR-15 and AK-47] could be privately owned, someone shouted, ‘The Second Amendment!’” BuzzFeed notes that The Connecticut Post “put the number of hecklers at ‘as many as a dozen.’”

    The heckling came even as “Heslin spoke while holding a gilt-framed portrait of him and his son, taken when Jesse was a baby,” the CT Mirror notes.

    Read more:

  14. Hmmm
    Posted April 2, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    You know who else did research?

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