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Gun Lobby Prefers a Policy of Ignorance

I noticed a recent article in the Washington Times (which is to print what Fox News is to TV) that had me thinking, “Here we go again.”

The article, headlined “U.S., after long ban, quietly begins to
study gun safety,” reported, with barely-concealed alarm, that the
National Institutes of Health (NIH) is studying the risks to teenagers
from carrying guns. Can you imagine that? A government agency believing
that teens with guns should be considered an issue of public health?

Pro-gun Members of Congress sent NIH an intimidating letter
questioning the gun-related research. A spokesperson for the Gun Owners
of America added ominously, “This kind of research does concern us, and
we’re going to be watching it closely.”

Yes, it’s “déjà vu all over again,” the repetition of a longtime gun
lobby theme. I call it the “fear of facts.” Or, “the less we know about
gun violence, the better off we are.” This principle dictates a
recurring gun lobby tactic: when new information starts to look
threatening to the pro-gun agenda, make sure it never sees the light of

We saw this tactic at work in the 1990s, when the Centers for
Disease Control began to fund firearm surveillance systems at state
health departments to allow the collection of basic data about firearm
deaths and injuries – the same kind of information that has long been
collected about auto deaths and injuries. Gun lobby intimidation led
Congress to cut $2.6 million from CDC’s budget – exactly the amount
that was being spent on gun-related research.

To this day, the CDC is subject to a legislative restriction barring
it from funding research used “in whole or in part to advocate or
promote gun control.” In other words, if there is a chance research
would support the need for stronger gun laws, CDC can’t fund it. There
is no such restriction on research that could be used to oppose
stronger gun laws. Can you imagine if CDC were barred from funding
research that could be used “in whole or in part to advocate or
promote” the regulation of tobacco products?

In recent years, we have seen the “ignorance is bliss” approach of
the gun lobby surface on other issues. It is the basis for the infamous
Tiahrt Amendments
barring public disclosure of the crime gun trace data that for many
years had been routinely disclosed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives. When researchers used the data to show that
state gun laws impede the flow of guns into the illegal market, that
assault weapons are disproportionately traced to crime, and that
certain gun dealers are feeding large numbers of guns into the criminal
market, the gun lobby felt sufficiently threatened to get Congress to
suppress the information.

We see the same effort to hide the truth about state concealed
weapon laws. The National Rifle Association has been shockingly
successful in bullying state legislatures into passing laws that have
exponentially increased the number of people with licenses to carry
concealed weapons, even in the face of strong public opposition. It
turns out that, in state after state with these laws, lots of very
dangerous people have been given licenses to carry hidden handguns in
public, and they have committed lots of very serious crimes.

For example, in 2007, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
reported that 1,400 individuals who had pled guilty or no-contest to
felony charges had been issued concealed carry licenses and that
license holders had committed crimes ranging from aggravated stalking
to manslaughter. The Sun-Sentinel obtained the names of the license
holders just before the Florida legislature, at the behest of the NRA,
passed legislation to block further public disclosure. The same pattern
has been repeated in other states:
after the press discloses the dangerous individuals granted concealed
carry licenses and their crimes, the NRA immediately seeks legislation
to seal the names.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? The gun lobby insists that “the people should
be trusted to have guns.” But it is unwilling to trust the people with
the truth about guns.

For more information, see Dennis Henigan’s new book, Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy.


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