Working in concert, science and government can save lives. A classic case: Federally funded research has shaped policies that have slashed the number of auto fatalities, even as more Americans are driving more miles every year.
More recently, the government has taken steps to curtail an alarming rise of deaths due to prescription opioid overdoses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new prescribing guidelines for doctors, and ongoing research has led to new proposals for treatment strategies and patient databases.
But federal response to the terrible scourge of gun violence — which are now taking more American lives than car wrecks — has been a resounding silence.
Why? Politics, of course.
Just talking about anything that might remotely be construed as “gun control” is a lethal third rail for U.S. legislators. They’re so frightened by the topic that a ban on CDC-funded research into gun violence as a public health issue remains in effect, even as the death toll reaches grim new heights.
It is time for this cowardice to end. If Sunday’s slaughter at an Orlando nightclub does not weigh on congressional consciences, we fear nothing ever will. Last month, attorneys general from 14 states (regrettably, but perhaps predictably, not including Texas) issued a sharp wake-up call. In a letter sent to congressional leaders, the state officials pressed for the repeal of an appropriations rider that has effectively banned study of gun violence by the nation’s top public health agency.
This isn’t about violating anybody’s rights or confiscating anybody’s guns. It’s about information. It’s about choosing scientifically sound research and data over deliberate ignorance in shaping American gun policy. Every year, the CDC distributes $11 billion to fund research for public health issues — and virtually none of it is helping understand the roots of gun violence or identify strategies that could make us safer without curtailing our rights. As the attorneys general’s letter points out, the funding vacuum of nearly two decades’ standing has actively dissuaded a new generation of medical and scientific researchers.
They state: “By sidelining the CDC, the U.S. has severely limited progress on data collection and analysis and has discouraged public health professionals from working in this field.”
Two U.S. senators from Connecticut, the state permanently scarred by a deranged gunman’s slaughter of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, were more blunt in their assessment of their congressional colleagues. Both accused Congress, through its willful inaction, of being complicit in Sunday’s appalling massacre in Florida.
This devastation marks a turning point. The leaders elected to safeguard our welfare can take reasonable steps toward creating a scientific, factual information base to use in creating policy.
Or they can remain paralyzed, cowed by fear and emotional ideology. As the president wearily said Sunday, “To actively do nothing is a decision.”
It’s a decision that embraces chaos. And it endangers us all.
— The Dallas Morning News,