Saturday, April 3, 2021

MCN/USA TODAY NETWORK: A promising sign in the fight against gun violence

Matthew T. Mangino
April 2, 2021

Within the last week, four people, including a 9-year-old boy, were gunned down at a business complex in Orange, California. This was the third mass shooting in United States in a span of several weeks.

These killings come as the nation was mourning the killing of 18 others in mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia. Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in three Atlanta-area spas. A week later, ten people died when a gunman opened fire at a Boulder, Colorado grocery store.

In the wake of the violence, politicians provided their, all too familiar, “stop the needless violence” speeches, and then began to posture to protect their political interests.

Republicans will lament that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct and beyond the limits of mere mortals to contest.  Democrats will nibble around the edges of gun regulation—trying to avoid getting constituents in right-leaning districts too excited. 

This scenario has been repeated after mass shootings in Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Charleston and Pittsburgh—a frenzy of rhetoric after each shooting, but nothing meaningful in terms of reform.

The Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have recently passed a bill aimed at addressing gaps in existing gun laws. The bill would extend, by an additional week, the amount of time the F.B.I. has to complete background checks.

A second measure would require those buying firearms from private sellers online or purchasing them at gun shows to have their backgrounds vetted before they could receive the weapon. The gun show loophole lets private sellers avoid the background checks that would be required by an in-person purchase at a retail store.

While Democratic-backed gun regulation legislation faces an uphill battle in the U.S. Senate because of Republican opposition, President Joe Biden is apparently weighing whether he has the authority to issue executive orders aimed at guns made by 3D printers and stemming the flow of international firearms into the country.

The most promising initiative with regard to gun violence was put in place in December, before the recent string of mass shootings. With the National Rifle Associated weakened by in-fighting and allegations of fraud and waste, Congress approved $25 million in federal funding to study gun safety.  According to the USA Today, the money will be split evenly between the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and used to examine gun violence from a public health perspective.

Federal money for gun research disappeared twenty-five years ago after Congress adopted the Dickey Amendment, which barred the CDC from spending money to “advocate or promote gun control.” It was named for Jay Dickey, a former Republican Congressman from Arkansas, who proudly proclaimed himself the National Rifle Association’s “point man” in Washington.

Robust gun violence research can set this country on a track to reducing gun violence in the same way the country reduced traffic fatalities.

Scientists and engineers were able to identify risk factors for motor vehicle accidents after significant and sustained research. In response to the findings of researchers, automakers introduced new safety features and Congress passed the Highway Safety Act in 1966.

In the last 55 years, accounting for significantly more cars on the road each driving many more miles on average, Harvard Professor David Hemenway found that, “motor vehicle deaths per vehicle mile have fallen over 85 percent.”

Just as the Highway Safety Act brought about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this new gun research must result in a National Gun Safety Administration.

The money allotted for gun research pales in comparison with the $500 million the NHTSA has just for grant awards to all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Territories and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Yet, the new funding is an encouraging sign.

There is no one answer to gun violence. Just like automobile researchers introduced airbags and promoted safety measure like seatbelts and a nationwide crackdown on driving under the influence—gun violence researchers need to coordinate efforts and have a clearinghouse for implementation and enforcement.

(Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino)

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