Lack of Research Disarms Debate Over Gun Violence Prevention

By Karen Sheehan, MD

I have been a pediatrician for more than 20 years. In this relatively short time period, I have been privileged to see remarkable progress. Infectious diseases that used to cause severe illness, and even death, are now eradicated through immunizations. Death rates from childhood cancer have declined more than 50 percent, and children and adolescent deaths from motor vehicle crashes have decreased more than 70 percent.

Yet despite this progress, we continue to see an alarming number of people die from gun violence. (In fact, more people in Illinois die from gun violence than from motor vehicle accidents.)

Why have we had such great success against these top killers of kids, but haven’t curbed gun violence?

The answer is clear: sustained research funding and political will. As a country, we put great effort into preventing these childhood deaths because we decided it was unacceptable for our children to die from these causes.

No Gun Safety Research

Although we do know some things that we can do to prevent violence, we are limited in our understanding of how to prevent firearm violence because of a lack of funding for firearm injury research.

In 1996, Congress threatened to eliminate funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) after accusing the agency of advocating for gun control. As a result, the CDC developed a self-imposed ban on gun violence studies, that led to a a 20-year period with virtually no data.

Any of us who read the newspapers or watch TV news have seen and heard both sides of the issue. Some say easy access to guns is the cause of the firearm injury; others say it is lack of adequate mental health services. The fact is, we really don’t know the complete answer because we are essentially forbidden to study the topic in a meaningful manner.

There is no reason we can’t see a similar decrease in firearm deaths, as we have in other childhood diseases. All we need are sustained research funding and political will.

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