In the weeks since a 19-year-old Florida man killed 17 and injured 16 at a high school in Broward County, there have been all the expected debates about guns.
Also up for debate have been the reactions of politicians.
Many elected officials offered thoughts and prayers to the victims.
That led one critic in Michigan to send a campaign donation to her congressman. The check amount read: Thoughts and Prayers. It seemed an appropriate counter to those elected officials who suggested they could do nothing more effective than pray about gun violence.
If these officials believe prayer is the best tool available to combat mass shootings, then why don’t they also rely on prayer to secure the borders? Or end abortion?
Is that why these politicians ran for office? To pray, rather than use the legislative process to effect the changes they desire?
That’s not to discount prayer. And it certainly doesn’t discount the need for thought – about how to elevate the discussion about guns and gun ownership and place a bigger emphasis on responsible behavior and effective regulation.
To reach that goal, we need credible, reliable research. There’s a dearth of such research now, primarily because Congress, acting at the behest of the National Rifle Association, has virtually banned federal funds from being used to study injuries and deaths caused by firearms.
Rand Corporation recently issued a report on what measures might be useful to reduce gun-related deaths and injuries in the United States. The report noted such things as safety locks and background checks do seem to help. However, in most areas, the report said it was impossible to reach credible conclusions because of the lack of valid research.
Researchers noted that on all sides of the debate, tainted data and anecdotes are used instead of solid research.
Here’s an excerpt from the Rand report’s overview:
“… (M)any of the possible effects of gun policies that are raised in policy debates have only rarely—or never—been studied rigorously. These understudied and unstudied outcomes in our review included the effects of laws on the gun industry, on police shootings of civilians, on a gun owner’s ability to use his or her weapon defensively, and on participation in hunting and sport shooting. Despite the importance of these outcomes to influential stakeholders in gun policy debates, scientific research has not been conducted to clarify how the outcomes would likely be affected by gun laws. …”
So we’re basically shooting in the dark.
There are those who claim that science doesn’t matter because the Second Amendment offers Americans an absolute right to own guns.
The Constitution does offer rights regarding guns, as well as religion, speech, property and so on, but none is an absolute right.
And the Second Amendment certainly doesn’t trump other parts of the Constitution, although gun activists sometimes trample others’ rights to further their cause. For example, in 2011, Florida passed a law restricting doctors from talking to their patients about guns. A federal appeals court ruled last year that the law violated the First Amendment.
Following the massacre at Parkland high school, Florida lawmakers – who had long toed the NRA line – were pressured by constituents and gun-control groups to change course. Under heavy lobbying, they did. They raised the age at which rifles may be purchased and adopted other restrictions. They also approved arming teachers in classrooms and increasing funding for school security.
It’s unclear whether such measures will do any good. Like the pro-gun laws before it, the new law is not based on research. It was mostly a way for lawmakers to relieve the political pressure they felt.
At the state level and even more so on the federal level, policy is being driven by politics and money. That’s especially tragic because reason and research could provide real improvement.
Given that, perhaps the prayer politicians ought to offer after the next mass shooting is the one theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.