REDUCING GUN VIOLENCE

ABSTRACT: There’s good news and bad news after the recent obstruction by filibustering in the US Senate of a law to reduce gun violence. Information on the votes in the Senate and how to contact your Senators (and Representatives) is below.

Efforts to reduce gun violence are getting unprecedented attention. Four states have recently passed laws targeting gun violence. However, there is a continuing lack of good data and research on gun violence, largely because the gun industry and its supporters have aggressively worked to block government data collection and research, as well as to intimidate private researchers. This inhibits the solving and prevention of crimes, as well as the identification and prosecution of gun dealers who irresponsibly, if not illegally, sell guns, including guns that are used in crimes.

I urge you to contact your Senators and let them know how you feel about this issue, whether you agree with their vote or not. Good legislation, good data and research, and strong enforcement could significantly reduce the 18,000 suicides and 12,000 murders that happen with guns each year in this country. Communication to elected officials by voters – their constituents – is critical to taking advantage of this window of opportunity and achieving change that will reduce the tragedy of gun violence.

FULL POST:There’s good news and bad news after the recent obstruction by filibustering in the US Senate of a law to reduce gun violence. (See post of 4/20/13 for more details.) One piece of good news is that some Senators are saying they will continue the effort. Information on the votes in the Senate and how to contact your Senators (and Representatives) is below.

Other good news:

  • Efforts to reduce gun violence are getting unprecedented attention, including coverage in mainstream media
  • The issue is a much higher priority in voters’ minds than it was
  • Elected officials are being asked where they stand on the issue regularly
  • Elected officials who support steps to reduce gun violence are much more comfortable saying so in public
  • Four states have recently passed laws targeting gun violence: Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York. Others are considering doing so. You may want to check and see if there is such an effort in your state.

Nationally, the broad support for reducing gun violence is clear and its potential political impact has being discussed. For example, in 21 states both US Senators supported the gun background check provision that was defeated by filibuster. Those 21 states have 261 Electoral College votes, out of the 270 needed to elect a President. The 17 states where both Senators opposed the law only have 146 electoral votes. [1]

The National Academy of Sciences published a major report back in 2004, “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” that found that there is a lack of good data and research on this topic. It recommended that the federal government support “a systematic program of data collection and research” (page 3). The report noted that “violence is positively associated with firearms ownership” (page 5) but that the data do not allow a conclusion about whether there is a cause and effect relationship. It stated that in comparisons among countries, “there is a substantial association between gun ownership and homicide” and that “the U.S. homicide rate is much higher than in all other developed countries.” (page 6) [2] Australia has achieved a dramatic reduction in gun violence over the last 6 years. (See post of 4/20/13 for more details.)

Despite this, there is a continuing lack of good data and research on gun violence, largely because the gun industry and its supporters, notably the National Rifle Association (NRA), have aggressively worked to block government data collection and research, as well as to intimidate private researchers. The US Centers for Disease Control and the US Department of Health and Human Services are effectively blocked from spending any money on gun violence research. In contrast, despite the fact that roughly the same number of people die each year in gun violence as in car accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spends roughly $125 million per year to study and improve highway safety. As with highway safety, gun safety is a public health issue and should be address as such.

The blocking of the collection and use of gun data inhibits the solving and prevention of crimes, as well as the formulation of effective policies to reduce gun violence. It also inhibits the identification and prosecution of gun dealers who irresponsibly, if not illegally, sell guns, including guns that are used in crimes. [3][4]

Getting back to the gun violence prevention efforts in the US Senate, the vote on the background check provision was 54 in favor (Yeas) and 46 opposed (Nays), but because of the filibuster, 60 votes in favor were needed to move the legislation forward. It was largely a party line vote, with Republicans opposed and Democrats in favor, with the following exceptions: [5]

  • 4 Republicans in favor: Collins (ME), Kirk (IL), McCain (AZ), and Toomey (PA).
  • 4 Democrats opposed: Baucus (Montana), Begich (Alaska), Heitkamp (ND), and Pryor (Arkansas). (Reid [NV] voted “No”, but as a procedural move to allow him to call for reconsideration.)

I urge you to contact your Senators and let them know how you feel about this issue, whether you agree with their vote or not. If you support them they need to hear that, because there is pressure on them from both sides. If you’d like them to change their vote, they should hear that as well. You can find your US Senators’ names and contact information at: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

It wouldn’t hurt to contact your US Representative while you’re at it, although there is no impending action in the House. You can find their names and contact information at: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Good legislation, good data and research, and strong enforcement could significantly reduce the 18,000 suicides and 12,000 murders that happen with guns each year in this country. The attention this issue is finally getting is an important step forward. Communication to elected officials by voters – their constituents – is critical to taking advantage of this window of opportunity and achieving change that will reduce the tragedy of gun violence.


[1]       Green, J., 5/1/13, “A matter of time? Congress failed to act, but the gun control tides are shifting,” The Boston Globe

[2]       Wellford, C.F., et al., 2004, “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” Committee on Law and Justice, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences

[3]       Bender, M.C., 2/12/13, “Gun lobby blocks data collection by crimefighters,” Bloomberg

[4]       Thacker, P.D., 12/19/12, “Congress and the NRA suppressed research on gun violence,” Slate Magazine

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