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Keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people reduces violence

Friday, July 7, 2017

By Jonathan Perloe

Special to The Vindicator

In his op-ed, “Gun control is fine, except for not working” (Vindicator June 26) Jay Ambrose offers a litany of claims in defense of the gun lobby’s relentless crusade to block any legislative measure that addresses the public-health crisis that kills 33,000 Americans every year. He’s wrong; common-sense laws keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and reduce gun violence. There are numerous studies that prove the point.

The “guns everywhere” outlook of Mr. Ambrose defies logic. As Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said, “If loose gun laws and more guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country in the world.” We aren’t, by an order of magnitude. According to the American Journal of Medicine, the gun homicide rate in the U.S. is 25 times higher than in other high-income countries. The vast majority of Americans get it; in a just published study by Pew Research, 83 percent of Americans say gun violence is a problem, and strong majorities support reasonable gun laws such as universal background checks, barring suspected terrorists from buying guns and stopping the sale of weapons of war.

Background checks

Mr. Ambrose notes that most criminals get their guns illegally. That is hardly proof that gun laws don’t work. Just the opposite: Brady background checks make it harder for would-be criminals to buy guns legally, forcing them to the black market where it is more expensive and more risky to acquire firearms, reducing their availability and desirability. To date, background checks have stopped more than 3 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers.

There is direct evidence that criminals adjust their behavior in response to gun laws. In a study by the National Institute of Justice, convicted felons who had not carried weapons during the commission of their crimes were asked why they were unarmed. Fifty-nine percent chose the response “Against the law.” Seventy-nine percent wanted to avoid a “stiffer sentence.”

In a typical twisting of the facts by gun-rights advocates, Mr. Ambrose cites the 2013 report commissioned by the CDC, “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence,” to claim there is no evidence that gun laws work. In fact, the study concluded, “the scarcity of research on firearm-related violence limits policy makers’ ability to propose evidence-based policies that reduce injuries and deaths.” The difficulty in assessing whether gun laws save lives is not that the evidence proves otherwise – it’s that the evidence doesn’t exist to conclusively prove or disprove the efficacy of some specific gun laws.

Federal funding blocked

Why is there so little research? Because legislators beholden to the gun lobby have blocked federal funding of research and collection of data. The CDC report notes, “Since the 1960s laws and regulations have been enacted that limited data collection relevant to firearm violence prevention research.” Starting in 1996 and expanded in 2011, the Republican majority in Congress, with very limited Democratic support, passed outright prohibitions on federally funded gun violence research. The impact on research that could save lives is profound.

A study published in the Journals of the American Medical Association compared the level of gun violence research to that of the top 30 causes of death. If funding for firearm death and injury research was proportionate to its impact on public health, an estimated $1.4 billion would have been spent. The reality is that just $22 million was identified, less than 2 percent of the expected level, making gun violence the least-researched cause of death in America.

In response to the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise, R-La., Mr. Ambrose suggests that the “best weapon against misuse of guns is cops with guns…” He neglects to observe that that is hardly the reaction we’re hearing from Congress and the Trump administration. More typical is the response from Senator Lindsey Graham R-S.C., “We’re not going to tell law-abiding people they can’t own a gun because of some nut job.” It’s a disappointing day when a member of Congress is shot and the response from lawmakers is perpetuating the NRA myth that gun violence prevention advocates are trying to confiscate guns. As Mr. Ambrose noted, gun sales reached all time highs during the Obama administration. That’s hardly a sign of the NRA’s hysteria about the disarming of America. On one thing Mr. Ambrose and I agree. Let’s stop calling people “nuts – whether they want looser gun laws, stronger gun laws or are in need of mental-health treatment.

Gun violence crisis

Despite the paucity of research that could guide solutions to the gun violence crisis that has killed or injured one half million Americans since the Sandy Hook shooting, numerous studies have concluded that weak laws encourage violence while smart firearm laws prevent gun death and injury. A study published by Duke Law found that for every 10 to 20 gun removal cases under Connecticut’s risk warrant law (aka “gun violence restraining order”), one suicide was prevented. On the flip side, a study just released by researchers at Stanford Law School and Columbia University found that “violent crime is substantially higher” in states with loose restrictions on carrying weapons in public.

Connecticut has the second toughest gun laws in the nation and the fifth lowest rate of gun deaths. Smart gun laws save lives.

Jonathan Perloe is director of programs and communications for CT Against Gun Violence.