In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting at the beginning of October that left 58 dead and more than 500 people wounded, politicians and citizens alike sprung into an action that has become far too commonplace over the past decade: calling for increased gun control only to be met with deaf, conservative ears.
It’s no secret that America has an egregiously unparalleled problem with gun violence and mass shootings when compared to other developed countries worldwide. Following the deadliest mass shooting in this country’s history, even the National Rifle Association acquiesced to the calls for more gun control, claiming that there need to be additional regulations on “bump-fire stocks,” devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like entirely automatic weapons.
However, the political conversation has rapidly reverted to topics such as tax reform as a way to avert attention from reforms that so desperately need to happen regarding gun control and mental health.
The gun violence epidemic primarily stems from the prevalence of firearms in American society. However, an equally damning factor is the complete lack of research about preventing gun violence and mass shootings.
Gun research in the United States effectively froze in 1996. Prior to the freeze, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control was charged with conducting research in this area, but was accused by the NRA of promoting gun control, resulting in Congressional threats to strip funding from the agency. The result was the Center for Disease Control shutting down the vast majority of research into gun violence, which in turn meant the effective shut down of all research in this area, as private funding was scant and insufficient.
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Research has somewhat resumed following the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, when former President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order that would reinstate funding to the CDC to reinvigorate gun violence research and preventative measures. However, the CDC continues to shy away from pursuing research in this area, as the issue has become one of many divisive ideological debates driving the polarization of America. Congress has also played an instrumental role in deterring the CDC’s pursuit of any research regarding gun violence, blocking proposals in two of Obama’s budgets that would have provided the agency $10 million in additional funding.
As liberals call for gun control and conservatives shoot back that the solution to preventing more mass shootings is introducing even more firearms into society, what is missing from either argument is concrete and time-sensitive research supporting their stance.
The lack of research into what causes and what could prevent gun violence makes solving the pressing problem increasingly difficult, as does the staunch pro-gun attitude of the conservative Congressional majority.
With the last two most deadly shootings in American history occurring in a years’ time, something needs to change, and that something is the utter lack of research providing policymakers with concrete indication as to what preventative measures will make a difference. It is not enough for politicians to call for gun control or to condemn the individuals who carry out mass shootings, it is not enough for laws to be changed regarding guns if there is no research proving that the changes will have the desired and necessary effect.
Another area in desperate need of attention and funding is mental health research, second to the destigmatization of mental health issues.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, following the Las Vegas shooting, tweeted that “mental health reform is a critical ingredient to making sure we can try and prevent these things from happening.” Ryan is not wrong: understanding mental health issues and treating them in a better and more efficient way could possibly prevent some of the annual gun violence. What is troubling about his statement is that it comes at a time where the Republican party is incessantly attempting to reform healthcare in a way that would prevent individuals with mental health issues from accessing affordable and appropriate treatment.
While, thankfully, the Republican’s blundered attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have not been successful, each draft proposed would allow insurers to either deny coverage or increase the rates for individuals who have a pre-existing condition, such as pregnancy or mental health. 20 percent of American adults have a mental illness, and more than half do not receive treatment for the illness.
Under any Republican healthcare plan, 20 percent of Americans are at risk of paying astronomically high premiums for insurance coverage worth far less than the asking price solely because they have a mental illness. If the Republicans truly believe that increasing mental health awareness and advocating for higher treatment rates will prevent gun violence more than decreasing the supply of guns available to citizens, they certainly should not make it one of their key goals to make insurance and treatment for mentally ill individuals even more inaccessible than it already is.
It is imperative that this country finds a way to dig itself out the gun violence epidemic it finds itself in.
Government funded research into the causes and preventative measures of gun violence and mass shootings, as well as research into mental illness and better, more accessible treatment options are both necessary steps in doing so.
With the current leadership, the future for both of these look unfortunately bleak.
Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in international studies and intending to major in journalism.