While news media rightly give much attention to horrific mass shootings, we should remember that they are actually the smallest contributor to firearm deaths. Methods for preventing gun violence must include the much more common causes — suicides, single homicides, and accidents.
Research on preventing firearm deaths is messy and incomplete, at least partly because the 1996 Dickey Amendment prohibited the CDC from funding work advocating firearm restrictions. Instead of battling inevitable false claims about their studies, scientists simply abandoned that line of work. Recent modifications have rendered the Amendment somewhat less restrictive, but overall, studies remain grossly underfunded.
Still, there has been some reliable research. Here are a few examples: A position paper from the American Academy of Family Physicians reports a decline in mass shootings during the 10 years the 1994 assault weapons ban was in effect. Increased access to firearms increases their use in violent crimes and contributes to the U.S.’s unrivaled level of gun deaths. Reducing the availability of guns, increasing waiting periods, thorough background checks, gun locks, and restricting open carry all decrease the incidence of gun-related suicides. Women involved in abusive relationships with gun owners are five times more likely to be murdered (Johns Hopkins). States requiring universal background checks on all handgun sales saw a 47% reduction in these homicides.
The only unequivocally proven deterrents to firearm deaths are the strict laws enacted by almost all industrialized countries limiting access and ownership. Republicans have chosen to ignore or deride these methods. One of their most egregious rationales is that gun ownership is a God-given right guaranteed by our Constitution. This disregards all the other mistakes the founders made — the electoral college, granting voting rights only to white male landowners, etc. And what do we suppose God’s motives were in granting us a “right” that makes this one of the most dangerous of all industrialized countries in which to live?
Opponents of firearm restriction either ignore the good research or simply contradict it in typical Republican fashion (without providing any evidence). After all, this tactic worked great for spreading lies about election fraud, the January 6th coup attempt, COVID, etc. Ted Cruz falsely insists that restricting access to firearms simply doesn’t work to deter violence (Texas Tribune), ignoring all the evidence to the contrary. In his recent comments about the firearms bill that just passed the Senate, he ignored the bill’s substance and instead suggested that Democrats had no interest in punishing criminals but only in harming law-abiding people. Our own Senator Mike Lee also twists replies away from questions and toward defaming his questioners. He responded to the recent Fox News poll showing that 64% of respondents supported banning assault weapons by insisting that poll respondents simply aren’t capable of understanding the questions and need to have lawmakers explain what they mean and that responses in this poll were invalid anyway because no one knows what assault weapons are, forgetting that they were pretty well defined in the 1994 assault weapons ban, and anybody who can read can find out more.
There were a lot of evidence-driven policies in the original compromise bill that just passed the Senate that the gun lobby wouldn’t let Republicans touch, but some things of value remain, including closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” According to the DOJ, murders of women by dating partners roughly equal those by spouses or live-in partners, but dating partners aren’t considered risks under current laws. It’s hard to believe, but Republicans repeatedly held up reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act because the NRA opposed closing this loophole.
Another issue gaining approval among Republicans concerns so-called “red flag” laws, which allow law enforcement officers (and in some states, family members or other close associates) to file petitions in court to remove firearms from anyone exhibiting certain characteristics. These laws differ from state to state, so their efficacy can’t be accurately assessed, but they do seem to work at least in preventing suicides. But all have one fatal flaw. Nobody knows about them, and most states enacted them without funding for educating either the public or the police. The current bill provides for “nudging” states to adopt such laws. It passed even though some Republicans continue to claim that red-flag laws violate due process, which is patently false and easily debunked.
Some Republican legislatures have tried to pass laws preventing physicians from asking patients about the presence of firearms in their homes, where and how they are stored, if children have access, and whether there has been recurring domestic violence. They justify this by ridiculously asserting that physicians will use these conversations to advocate for gun control and that details will be given to government authorities.
Why do some Republican lawmakers continue to resist implementing proven methods for reducing firearm deaths? In spite of the obfuscation and rationalization, it all comes down to what they value most, their positions of power and full campaign coffers versus the tens of thousands of lives lost each year to firearms. They’ve made their choice.
Leigh Washburn is a member of the Iron County Democrats.
This article originally appeared on St. George Spectrum & Daily News: Your Turn: Guns and choices