Gun control has been a heated topic circling around the news lately and for good reason. With the recent Parkland school shooting in February and the even more recent, Great Mills school shooting the following month, many are calling for an action of change. But there lies the golden question, what really needs to change? There is always going to be the debate that the government needs to push stricter gun laws, or that there needs to be more intense background checks for mental health. Of course, we can’t forget those who propose the idea of lower magazine levels or even those who propose we change what kind of guns civilians are allowed to own. Any idea is a great idea if it means there will be less gun violence, because really, that’s the underlying issue, right? However, just like any great ending, there needs to be an even better beginning.
As I started my research for this paper I found thousands of articles talking about gun violence, the recent school shootings, and everyone’s opinion on the matter. It was quite overwhelming and actually made the whole topic more confusing. But what I really needed to find was the government research on gun violence and all the correlations in between. As I previously stated, every idea is a great idea if it means that there will be less gun violence. So now is the time that we pick up the pen and paper and start with the beginning. Just as the government allocates funds for research on cancer, automobile safety, and other epidemics, they need to take a look at gun violence as well. For there to be less gun violence in the United States, the government first needs to make research on the issue a higher priority.
According to an article from the University of Utah, the federal government is spending less annually on gun violence research than private organizations and citizens. Currently, gun violence research is not a federal priority, unlike other public health concerns with similar and lesser fatality rates (Quijada, 2018). This leads to the question, why isn’t the government spending money on gun violence research? After doing a little reading, I noticed that a couple of articles were blaming the Dickey Amendment for the lack of government research on gun violence. This further lead to the question, what is the Dickey Amendment? The Dickey Amendment is, an amendment to a spending bill that forbade the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using money to “advocate or promote gun control” (Zhang, 2018). This bill was passed in 1996 sponsored by a congressman from Arkansas, Jay Dickey. Since then, medical and public-health professionals have been pushing back—more and more forcefully in recent years. The American Public Health Association and the American Medical Association have both taken to calling gun violence a public-health problem. In 2016, more than 100 medical organizations signed a letter to Congress asking to lift the Dickey Amendment (Zhang, 2018). Although the American Medical Association has dubbed gun violence as a public health crisis, the lift of the Dickey Amendment failed to pass and the funding for research on gun related deaths has remained the same.
The American Public Health Association and the American Medical Association have recognized gun violence as a public health problem because, as The Atlantic noted, “We in public health count dead people. It’s one of the things we do. And we count them in order to understand how to prevent preventable deaths,” Nancy Krieger, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told NPR in 2015 (Zhang, 2018). Some may argue that gun violence is not a public health problem, but the CDC studies more than sickness. They are also responsible for studying drownings, accidental falls, brain injuries, car crashes, suicides, and so much more. Suicide by firearm account for nearly half of the gun deaths per year in the United States. However, because of the laws preventing the research needed, we are unable to dig deeper into the issue.
Not only are there laws that forbid the CDC of using money to advocate or promote gun control, but there are some that also prevents the tracking of firearms themselves. The Tiahrt Amendment, first sponsored by Kansas Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt and recently reauthorized as part of another appropriations bill, prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) from maintaining a searchable database. Instead, officers attempting to trace a gun used in the commission of a crime must use a card catalog and phone system to track the weapon (Dooley, 2017). Not having a readily searchable database to keep track of the firearms that are among the public is very inefficient and in return, costs officers time and taxpayers’ money. ABC News reported, often, officers find themselves forced to comb through boxes and boxes of paper records, many of them barely legible, by hand. The antiquated system — which stretches the average processing time from hours to days — cost taxpayers around $60 million over the course of 12 years, the ATF Tracing Center estimates (Dooley, 2017). Although we cannot effectively track the guns that are already out in the public’s hands, perhaps we should start tracking the ones that we are about to sell. By doing this, it would be easier to tie the gun with the owner and allow more surveillance on the guns that are in the public’s hands.
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