Historian Richard Hofstadter called it the paranoid style in American politics. The NRA’s bloviating Wayne LaPierre is Exhibit One, an angry mind hankering to enshrine George Orwell’s “1984” catchphrase, that ignorance is strength.
The child massacre in Newtown cast into relief LaPierre and the NRA’s decades-long campaign to supplant health research on firearms and violence. Research and facts a hazard? In the paranoid war on firearms data and public health, the paranoid are winning.
Dr. Fred Rivara of the UW’s Department of Pediatrics and Seattle Children’s Hospital experienced the NRA’s data stiffling first-hand. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Rivara and his colleague, the Rand Corporation’s Dr. Arthur Kellermann, conducted firearm-injury research. The hammer fell in 1996, when an NRA-obsequious Congress whacked $2.6 million from the Centers for Disease Control. As Rivera and Kellermann note in an online essay for the Journal of the American Medical Association, $2.6 million just happened to be the amount dedicated to firearm-injury research. They quote the Appropriation language which underlines the point. “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.” The inference is that empirical, control-tested data might demonstrate a relationship between gun control and a public good (say, fewer murdered children.) What if the opposite is true, and the NRA’s prescription of armed guards at schools has merit? As the National Academy of Sciences reported in 2004, there is inadequate data to determine what’s effective. Doctors and social scientists need to analyze inputs, but the NRA and its minions in Congress — and even the Washington Legislature — will have none of it.
Rivara and Kellermann underscore the extent of suppressed info. In Washington, files on firearm registration can no longer be accessed. The 2011 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits commanders and NCOs from speaking to a service member about his or her private firearm even — and here’s the kicker — “in cases in which a leader believes that a service member may be suicidal.”
The NRA continues to inject its agenda into exposed, public tissue. “Go to p. 766 of the Affordable Care Act,” Rivara says. There it is, buried in a blur of Obamacare titles and bureaucratese, the ultimate non-sequitur. “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights.” The law gags wellness and prevention (!) programs from collecting or disclosing data on the presence or storage of firearms (or the lawful use of firearms or ammunition.)
Preventing gun violence is everyone’s business. With firearm-injury data, Congress and the Legislature need to let in the light. Ignorance gives strength to the NRA, while the truth sets us free.