By Marian Wright Edelman
Why is the National Rifle Association so afraid of the truth? There are many misconceptions about guns and gun violence swirling around in Americans’ minds—and in many cases, this misinformation is no accident. For years the NRA has blocked the truth and actively fought against and prevented research in the causes and costs of gun violence because they don’t want Americans to know the truth about guns, how to prevent gun violence, and how to make themselves and their children safer. Why else would they have Congress pull gun injury prevention research funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health? Why have we put up so long with efforts to block all research on a huge public health threat that injures and kills tens of thousands of Americans every year?
As Drs. Arthur Kellermann and Frederick Rivara wrote an article titled, “Silencing the Science on Gun Research” in the February 2013 Journal of the American Medical Association. They wrote, “What can be done to reduce the number of US residents who die each year from firearms, currently more than 31,000 annually? . . . The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997.”
Instead, they note that beginning in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress began mounting an all-out effort to eliminate any funding for research connected to gun injury prevention. And as Drs. Kellermann and Rivara explain, this continued refusal to fund any research isn’t just an academic matter. “Injury prevention research can have real and lasting effects. Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans dying in motor vehicle crashes has decreased by 31 percent. Deaths from fires and drowning have been reduced even more, by 38 percent and 52 percent, respectively. This progress was achieved without banning automobiles, swimming pools, or matches. Instead, it came from translating research findings into effective interventions. Given the chance, could researchers achieve similar progress with firearm violence? It will not be possible to find out unless Congress rescinds its moratorium on firearm injury prevention research.”
Why is the NRA afraid of seeking the truth and having citizens make informed decisions about how best to ensure their and their children’s safety? Their concerted campaign to hide the truth and block research is finally facing new scrutiny and opposition. President Obama’s proposed gun safety package would end the freeze on gun injury prevention research although the amounts requested are inadequate. Ignorance is not bliss or sensible or sound policy, and in the case of our national gun violence epidemic, ignorance is actually fatal. We need to make decisions based on the truth and counter the NRA misinformation that has been infecting our nation.
It’s time to challenge and deflate NRA misinformation and recognize that it does not speak for most American gun owners or even the majority of its membership. For example, polling data shows that 85 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members support universal background checks—a policy position the NRA vehemently opposes.
The NRA argues that background checks don’t work. The reality is that criminal background checks do work and making them universal at the federal level would make them far more effective. Since its implementation in 1994, the Brady Law, which instituted a federal background check requirement for sales through licensed dealers, has denied 2.1 million applications to purchase a firearm. But its impact has been limited by the ability of criminals to access firearms through private sales, since only sales by federally licensed dealers require a background check; unlicensed dealers, including those at gun shows and on the Internet and other private sales do not. An analysis by Mayors Against Illegal Guns reveals that states that don’t require background checks for handgun sales at gun shows export guns used to commit crimes 2.5 times more often than states that do. As much as 40 percent of gun sales may be occurring through these private sales, a loophole that common sense and the vast majority of Americans demand we fix.
Another bit of misinformation from the NRA is that universal background checks will lead to a registry of gun owners. The Brady Law explicitly bans the creation of a gun owner registry, and under that law instant criminal background checks have been made on more than 100 million gun sales in the last decade without leading to the formation of a gun registry. Here again, misinformation has paralyzed effective gun safety protections. The vast majority of responsible gun owners support background checks because they know that the only people who will be negatively impacted are criminals and those who sell them firearms.
Please do your homework and decide for yourself. Educate yourself on what the NRA wants you to believe by reading the Children’s Defense Fund’s updated fact sheet “The Truth About Guns.” During this Easter recess, go to your members of Congress’ town hall meetings and let your members know that the time to be held hostage to the NRA lobby is over. Let’s break the NRA lock on the research door to learn and share the truth about the human, economic and public safety costs of gun violence in our nation. I believe the truth will set us free.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.