Data could help curb gun violence epidemic

When the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called gun violence a “serious public health threat” in a recent interview, it may have seemed like garden-variety politics. It wasn’t. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, was ending more than two decades of official near-silence on the topic — and suggesting a better approach may finally be on the way. The last time a CDC director attempted to address gun violence was in the mid-1990s, when some of the agency’s research had connected home firearm ownership to higher rates of gun deaths. A Republican Congress, heeding industry lobbyists, promptly passed legislation blocking the CDC from spending resources to “advocate or promote gun control.” For good measure, it also cut $2.6 million from the agency’s budget — the exact amount spent on gun research the prior year. Over the next quarter-century, virtually all federally funded gun research ground to a halt. With few grants available, academics avoided the issue. Although gun violence is the second-leading cause of death among young Americans, the U.S. government spent only $12 million to study the topic between 2007 and 2018. Cancer, the third-leading cause, received $335 million a year. The result of this abdication is very basic policy questions remain unanswered, even as firearms cause more than 30,000 U.S. deaths a year. Do restrictions on assault weapons reduce violence? Are there “best practices” that could prevent suicides, homicides or accidental injuries? What reforms could impede mass shootings? By one estimate, the government spends […]

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