Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Firearms policy on Earth 2
A couple of essays in the new JAMA on gun violence: one by Kellerman and Rivara on Republicans' successful efforts to defund public health research on the subject; the other by Mozffarian and colleagues on possible effective public health measures based on analogy with other health hazards. (And props to JAMA for making these available to y'all commoners.)
What is astonishing about both of these ruminations is that they are simultaneously the very paradigm of common sense; and so politically naive as to be risible. I expect the authors know that, but they figured, what the heck?
As K and R recount, Congress in 1996 tried to de-fund the CDC Center for Injury Prevention altogether, because they were figuring out that keeping a gun in the house makes you more, not less, vulnerable to violence and death. They ended up backing off slightly, but the amount of funding originally spent on gun violence was earmarked for other purposes, and language inserted in the appropriation that forbade funds being used to "advocate or promote gun control." Not wishing to risk their agency's existence of their own careers, CDC employees have assiduously avoided the issue ever since. The restriction was later applied to NIH.
As always, Republican epistemology is "If evidence might show that we are wrong, make sure we don't get any evidence." Reality has a well-known liberal bias.
So, what do Mozaffarian and the gang propose? Noting that 85 Americans are killed by guns every day, they look to public health successes in the areas of tobacco, unintentional poisoning, and motor vehicle safety. We have made major progress reducing harm from all of these sources.
So why don't we tax firearms and ammunition to incorporate their actual social cost in the price and fund gun safety programs, as we have done with tobacco? Riiiigght.
Why don't we require keyed or code locked security devices on guns, analogous to childproof safety packaging on drugs and chemicals? Ha!
Why don't we require mandatory gun safety classes and licensing, as we do with drivers? In your dreams.
Why don't we have a sustained media campaign to de-glamorize guns, as we did with cigarettes? Instead of being manly and cool, in other words, guys who have to go around armed all the time are wimps. Uh huh.
The fact is that of all the measures they discuss, only restrictions on large capacity magazines are under any sort of serious discussion, and that's not going to happen. (And in case you think we're talking about restricting rapid fire semi-automatic weapons, no we aren't. We're only talking about restricting "assault weapons," which just means rapid fire semi-automatic weapons that have a certain bad ass look about them. Tone down the bad ass look, and the president's proposal is inapplicable.)
If we did even half of the above, we could significantly cut down on the carnage. And in case you're wondering, so far the Supreme Court would have no problem with any of it. (The media campaign would have to be conducted by private organizations, presumably, although the government could fund more straightforward educational messages.) But should I be spending my bandwidth on a hopeless cause?