If Americans were 25 times as likely to die of cancer as citizens of other wealthy nations, the federal government would be pouring billions into research to find the causes.
Yet there is much less interest in examining why the U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times as high as in peer countries. For Americans ages 15 to 24, the rate is 49 times as high. Among two dozen wealthy nations combined, nine of every 10 youths murdered with a gun are Americans, as are nine of 10 women. No other successful nation tolerates a tide of roughly 100 shooting deaths per day.
The U.S. government has spent just 1.6 percent as much on gun policy research in recent decades as it has on other leading causes of mortality, such as traffic crashes or sepsis, the RAND Corporation has found.
As the National Rifle Association begins its annual meeting this week in Dallas, it’s worth asking why America’s gun lobby is so famously allergic to research, preferring slogans to data. Sympathetic members of Congress years ago put gun-violence research on ice. And while there are signs of a thaw, actual funding levels remain low - and uncertain.
Curtailing gun violence requires two distinct actions: identifying high-risk individuals, and then effectively keeping them from getting hold of firearms. Diversion of guns to criminals can be curtailed, Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins University and Garen Wintemute of the University of California at Davis have found, by requiring permits to buy guns and comprehensive background checks, by maintaining strict oversight of gun dealers, and by requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms.
Studies have also confirmed the effectiveness of safe-storage laws to keep guns away from children.
The gun lobby will always dispute whatever data conflict with its agenda. But facts have weight. Consider this one: More Americans have died from gun violence in the past half century than in all U.S. wars combined.