In today’s Boston Globe, Northeastern professor James Alan Fox boldly claims President Obama has not yet followed through on the promise of gun control. Specifically pointing to a provision on federal databases, known as the Tiahrt Amendment, Fox rightfully claims notes that the repeal of this restriction was part of the President’s campaign platform and has yet to be acted upon.
The Brady Campaign recently agreed with this sentiment and gave President Obama an “F” in every aspect of preventing gun violence. In a rather scathing review of the last year, the organization says “his Administration’s extraordinary silence and passivity has allowed the gun lobby to move its agenda forward.”
In order to get the largest legislative accomplishment of this Congress passed, health care reform, the Administration surely did not want to burn any bridges with Conservative Democrats whose vote was crucial to the final passage. An amendment ending a ban on mentally unstable Veterans purchasing firearms by Sen. Tom Coburn showed the likely vote breakdown in the Senate – 6 Democratic Senators joined Republicans in voting for the provision.
Now with the passage of health care reform behind the Administration, there is an opportunity to keep the promises of the campaign for strengthening gun laws and standing up to the powerful gun lobby. However, enormous political capital has been spent for this year and a half long legislative hurdle and it is unclear how many promises have been made on this and many other progressive issues.
Democratic policy makers should be reminded of the research behind reducing gun violence. Thankfully, Harvard comes to the rescue (yet again) with this Firearms Research Database. Launched last week, this is a helpful tool to analyze academic research related to firearms and could easily eat up several hours of your life. Be warned, academic paper nerds.
In a very quiet development last month, the National Institute of Health (NIH) began studying gun violence after a 13 year ban on the topic.
In 1996 Congress stripped the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of its $2.6 million dollar annual funding for firearm injuries. The Bush administration continued this ban while in control of the agency. At the time, Former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole and Former Senator Trent Lott argued gun related violence was not a public health concern and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the CDC. Rather, they believed it was “driven by a social-policy agenda, [and] simply does not make sense.”
The public health community is in agreement that gun violence is a major concern to the health and safety of the public. Injuries burden the health care delivery system and further crowd our nation’s emergency rooms.
Evidence has stacked up that lax gun control policies in this country have continued to contribute to horrific violence. The recent killings at Fort Hood beg us to ask the question, how could such a mentally disturbed individual legally equip himself for these murders? We should not forget that this isn’t the first time in recent history our country has been shocked by one man’s act of violence. The Virginia Tech massacre showed how documented dangerous individuals could still purchase firearms. Still this act of violence failed to renew the gun control debate. Additionally, the ease of buying and selling guns in America has dramatically increased violence in Mexico.
Thousands of innocent lives are taken by gun violence annually. Completed suicides by firearms account for over half of all suicides in the U.S. Why do individuals with the capacity to kill have ease purchasing weapons? If the answer is not control of guns but rather treatment of the mentally ill, shouldn’t we be able to ask the question?
In addition, a gun injury itself can force an individual to encounter all the problems in our health care delivery system that health care reform is trying to address: cost, quality and access. Hospital medical bills for doctor’s services and medical equipment show the need for improvements to control escalating cost in our health care system. The high chance of hospital related infections in the wound indicate quality must be improved. Finally, 1 out of every 6 Americans lack health insurance putting additional burdens on those seeking medical care after an injury. The health care reform bills do not address gun violence, but improvements in these three areas could reduce the poor health outcomes associated with gun related violence.
The NIH is studying why gun violence occurs, not for political reasons, but in the interest of our health as a nation. Our country will become less violent and healthier if we are able to stop gun violence before abhorrent acts of violence take place.
By Emma Sandoe