The letter, signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and others, says that "prevention of gun deaths and injuries should be an essential component of the federal government’s commitment to public health and safety." The senators cite Washington Post statistics on the 43 toddlers who shot someone as of Oct. 14 this year, and note that "the lifetime medical cost of treating gunshot injuries in the United States was $2.3 billion, with almost half the costs borne by taxpayers," according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Given those statistics, the senators call on the GAO to:
- Analyze the impact of existing public and private health and safety programs that "raise awareness among the public of the risk factors associated with having guns in the home and provide best practices on how families and communities can engage in a conversation about the safe and secure storage of guns in the household";
- Identify the programs that specifically aim to address unsafe gun access and use;
- Identify federal agencies with missions that relate specifically to these programs.
"This is an important step toward reaching Brady’s goal of cutting gun deaths in half by 2025," Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement.
Violent crime, including gun crime, reached a 20-year low in 2014. But many public health experts say that research that could drive the numbers down even further is sorely lacking because of a lack of public funding.
"There is one public health problem that has not benefited from rigorous research and analysis: gun violence," Jeffery Wasserman, vice president of the RAND Corp., recently wrote. "One important reason is that the government agency tasked with protecting public health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has not funded any gun-related research since 1996, when Congress stripped the agency of funding for any such research that could be associated with gun control advocacy," Wasserman said.
A recent story at the Trace illustrated that even Harvard's highly regarded Injury Control Research Center, which conducts research on guns as a public health issue, is "pinching pennies" due partly to donor skittishness about funding gun research in the face of opposition and skepticism from gun rights groups such as the NRA. Another story detailed the death threats and harassment gun violence researchers often face as a result of their work.
On a final note: The toddler shooting statistics the senators cite are already out of date. As of today, at least 52 children younger than 4 have shot themselves or someone else this year. In the latest incident, a 3-year-old boy from South Carolina fatally shot himself at home this past Sunday.