LOBBYISTS FOR the National Rifle Association (NRA) have spent considerable time and money to discourage the collection and sharing of information related to guns and gun violence. Keeping the public in the dark about the facts is helpful in advancing an extreme agenda. In particular, the gun lobby has used the under-counting of gun accidents involving children to oppose reasonable policies that could help prevent deaths and injuries caused by the careless handling and storage of firearms.
An investigative report by the New York Times has presented powerful evidence that federal statistics are incomplete on the number of children killed when a firearm is accidentally discharged. The Times’ Michael Luo and Mike McIntire reviewed hundreds of firearm deaths of children, going as far back as 1999, and — in four of five states examined — found twice as many accidental shootings as were tallied in federal statistics because of reporting peculiarities by medical examiners.
By calling into question statistics that show children are more likely to die in falls or by drowning than from the accidental discharge of a firearm, the Times’ report undermined a key argument of the NRA in opposing sensible laws about safe storage of guns and the need to develop technology to make weapons childproof. The madness of opposition to common-sense safeguards was underscored by the heartbreaking stories of a baby fatally shot in his crib by his 2-year-old brother; a 3-year-old who killed himself with a pistol temporarily hidden under a couch by his father; and the 12-year-old girl killed by her brother whose finger slipped on a shotgun.
“There are no accidents. There are simply irresponsible, stubborn, cowardly adults unwilling to stand up against the gun lobby and those who support it,” said Jodi Sandoval, whose 14-year-old son was killed in 2012 by a friend who didn’t think the gun he pointed at his friend was loaded.
As troubling as the Times’ findings is what’s not known because of the NRA’s successful efforts to stamp out scientific research related to guns. The group successfully lobbied Congress in 1996 for an amendment that was widely interpreted as a ban on gun violence research at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 18 states receive funding to participate in the CDC’s violent-death-reporting system. Scientific research, so critical in improving people’s lives and health, is virtually missing when it comes to guns and the violence that kills and injures tens of thousands of people each year.
President Obama, in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shooting and the horror of its 20 little victims, signed an executive order requiring more research on gun violence by the CDC and other federal agencies. But funding from Congress is questionable.
It should not be too much to expect that this country gets an accurate count of how many of its children die each year in accidents involving guns and then uses that information to help devise solutions that can spare families such anguish.