Following a year that saw some of the worst mass shootings in recent memory, not to mention the fact that murder rates in Detroit and Chicago both spiked, we're still looking for answers to what we can do to curb gun violence. But to make smart decisions, we need a better assessment of the problem. Here's the rub: restrictive legal language regarding funding essentially bars anyone at any agency in the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health.
Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Arthur Kellerman and Frederick Rivara put together a grim takedown of Congress's two decades of work to prevent Health Department-funded researchers from being able to do any work on gun violence.
The tale goes back to 1996, when pro-gun elements of Congress tried to kill the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which, among other things, studied gun injuries and violence. While that didn't work, the House managed to strike $2.6 million from the CDC's budget, which was how much the CDC spent on firearm research the previous year. Those funds were restored, but as Kellerman and Rivara note, "the money was earmarked for traumatic brain injury. The effect was sharply reduced support for firearm injury research."
It went farther, as the pair write:
To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the following language was added to the final appropriation: “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency's funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up. Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDC's website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-related violence.
Saying that research can't be used to promote gun control is incredibly opaque, to the point that it is indeed an effecting barring. Think of it this way: No scientist knows the results of a study going in, which is precisely why said studies are done. And imagine a study that shows that more guns mean more violence–or, in other words, fewer guns would reduce violence. It doesn't mean the researcher has a gun control agenda, but if data say that reducing guns reduces violence (and reducing violence is the goal) than said research definitely would show gun control is a positive thing.
Now, that's totally hypothetical, but not an unrealistic result. Why would any researcher try to get funding for a project that could ultimately eliminate funding altogether? They won't, and as such the language inserted into the CDC's funding documents effectively bars guns violence research.
But the CDC is only one agency within the Department of Health, and other agencies with fewer funding restrictions were able to take up action. Kellerman and Rivara use a 2009 study looking at the link between gun possession and gun assault that was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism–a worthwhile project, as guns and booze don't mix. But within two years, Congress had added the restrictive language to the funding bill for the entire Health Department (Section 218, control-F for "gun control"), including the National Institutes of Health, which funds a wealth of health-related research in the U.S.
But while the entire Health Department can't pay for gun research, you know who does have funds for gun stuff? The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, who help fund this ridiculous, violent video teaching people what to do during a massacre produced by a Houston disaster-preparedness group.
No joke, the video actually begins with the line “It may feel like another day at the office. But occasionally life feels more like an action movie than reality.” That right there treads dangerously close to glorifying the very violence its supposed to be decrying, and it absolutely caricaturizes it. Rambo is a cartoon version of violence that's meant to be fun. Seeing a school full of dead, shot-up children is about as far from that as you can imagine. And yet here we have a video of a guy walking around blasting office drones like a Schwarzenegger movie.
And holy hell, that use of "occasionally." OCCASIONALLY A LUNATIC WILL SHOOT UP YOUR OFFICE, says the video. That's our new reality.
That's not to mention the idiotic use of the term "active shooter event," which clinically wipes a gun massacre of any reality and makes the act of violently killing multiple people from point blank with a shotgun, with blood and guts and screaming everywhere, sound more like an old-fashioned father and son skeet shooting competition.
The only thing we can do about it is make a video that whitewashed violence–while the video is full of cartoon popping noises and a modicum of blood spraying, a short-barrel shotgun from point blank is deafeningly loud and will blast a hole in your stomach, as anyone with gun trauma experience can attest to–and hope to throw enough chairs at the gunman to disable him before he shoots us all dead.
Here's the thing: Whether or not you're down with violent movies or video games, there's absolutely no way any of them–let alone a low-budget PSA like this one–can replicate the infinite sadness and abhorrence of people actually being gunned down in cold blood.
Sure, applaud the effort–awareness and preparedness are always good–look at where our priorities lie. The feds are okay with funding videos that make gun violence look inevitable and, honestly, not nearly as horrific as it should be, but not funding research that could actually help make meaningful, informed policy decisions.
What we've got is a video that treats gun violence as something you should expect to happen, and which you'll be able to survive as long as you're smart. That ignores the multiple people suddenly shot at the beginning of the video, but is inherently reflective of the same culture that thinks more armed teachers, more masculinity (whatever the hell that means), more chair-throwing, and more husky boys willing to sacrifice their young lives by running at a shooter is the way to deal with gun violence.
That Congress would go to such lengths to completely block funding of gun violence research simply shows that pro-gun elements are afraid of the very possible result that more guns do equal more violence. That on its own is doing researchers a disservice, as studies tend to be more nuanced; it's difficult to empirically show such a blanket result. But it all goes to show what a large portion of our politicians–led and paid by the gun lobby, of course–think: We Americans should simply learn to deal with people shooting up our workplaces, all while sticking our heads in the sand when it comes to actually learning why violence happens in an effort to prevent it in the first place.