What We Don’t Know and How It Hurts Us

Remember the old saying, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”? Unlike a lot of folk adages, it’s wrong. Very wrong.

A lot of folks–especially younger people–shrug off the suggestion that they need to follow what our political class is doing. They have lives to live, livings to earn, children to raise, parties to attend. Let the politicians tend to governing.

This morning’s New York Times–buttressed by an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association–offers a prime example of why it’s important to keep tabs on Congressional shenanigans.

In the wake of the most recent horrendous shootings, of children in Connecticut and firefighters in New York, fingers have been pointed at the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives. ATF is theoretically an agency with the authority to thwart gun violence. But it has been without a permanent director for six years, thanks to the persistent efforts of Republicans in Congress to block any and all Obama appointments. Furthermore, it is hampered by laws lobbied for by the NRA and dutifully passed by Congress. As the Times notes,

Under current laws the bureau is prohibited from creating a federal registry of gun transactions. So while detectives on television tap a serial number into a computer and instantly identify the buyer of a firearm, the reality could not be more different.

So–unlike many countries–the U.S. doesn’t have a gun registry database. The NRA thinks such information would “pose a threat to the Second Amendment.”

In fact, the NRA evidently thinks that information would pose a threat to their version of the Second Amendment.

A former student who went on to get his doctorate in medical informatics sent me a recent Viewpoint from JAMA, the Journal of the AMA. After detailing several of the most recent mass shootings, and noting that in the U.S. more than 31,000 citizens die annually from firearms, the authors note research findings that ready access to guns in the home “increases, rather than reduces” a family’s risk of homicide in the home.  Then they make their main point:

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. But in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC. Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget–precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year.

The funding was restored in joint conference committee, but only on condition that it be earmarked for traumatic brain injury. And the following language was added to the final appropriation: “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

Similar language has been added to funding for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, after a research study was funded by that agency to determine whether carrying a gun increased or decreased the risk of firearm assault. The article went on to detail similar restrictions on other agencies.

A couple of rhetorical question: why doesn’t the NRA want the American public to have good information about gun violence? and why does a majority of Congress do its bidding?

A not-so-rhetorical question: when will citizens of this country say “enough!”


  1. I believe the citizens of this country have said “enough!” They “enough!” regarding many issues in this country with this last presidential election. The GOP, Tea Party, NRA and John Boehner are deliberately deaf, dumb and blind. There is no money to be made by listening to citizens of this country; only in maintaining the status quo.

  2. Conservatives have been wildly successful with their anti-fact agenda. We saw it last year in Indiana, when the GOP shot down amendments to include “medically accurate” information in our latest round of anti-abortion laws. (Similar measures were blocked in Kansas, Texas, and Arizona as well.)

    And just this fall, it became illegal for the state (and state agencies) to measure sea level rise in North Carolina.

    Voters will say “enough” when they hold these local-level politicians accountable, instead of helping them fail upwards into Congress.

  3. Great info Prof K. The problem is that in a democracy we need an INFORMED electorate. I would be willing to bet that you could forward your information to the STAR and on the front page would be a story about some fellow who wear a jock strap to work. Same with the TV Stations. Just fluff and “if it bleeds it leads”. Some REAL reporting would help a lot. Keep trying….thats all we can do I guess.

  4. Yes, I agree with the last comment. I do blame the media for some of this. I would like to see a report of how much funding goes to congressmen comes from the NRA and ammo manufacturers. Perhaps, if they did it around election time, we would know who was paying our representatives.

  5. Yes, I agree with the last comment. I do blame the media for some of this. I would like to see a report of how much funding comes to our congressmen from the NRA and ammo manufacturers. Perhaps, if they did it around election time, we would know who was paying our representatives.

  6. The gun lobby and NRA conspired to pass the Tiahrt Amendments beginning in 2003, added on to various Congressional funding bills. Among other things, they restrict the flow of information about firearms trace data so we can’t research the extent of damage resulting from semiautomatic weapons. We don’t know a lot of things if we can’t access the data.

  7. Opensecrets.com reports that the NRA gave between $1500 and $5000 to the following Indiana politicians this last round: Richard Mourdock, Larry Bucshon, Jacki Walorski, Dan Burton, Luke Messer, Todd Rokita, Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young. Can you think about any characteristic that these names have in common?

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