You might point to the tragic incidents in Las Vegas last Sunday as proof that America needs better gun control laws. But thanks to the National Rifle Association, we have no idea what sensible gun policy might look like. The NRA has essentially held a stranglehold on firearm research in America since 1996.
That's the year the NRA successfully lobbied a Republican-dominated Congress to pass The Dickey Amendment — a budget restriction that prevents the CDC from using any money to advocate or promote gun control. As a result, the amendment pretty much killed gun research in the United States.
"The Dickey Amendment...had a chilling effect on the CDC funding any gun research at all," John Oliver said in a June 2016 episode of 'Last Week Tonight' that he rereleased yesterday in response to the Las Vegas shooting. According to Oliver, funding for researching gun violence has dropped 96 percent since the Dickey Amendment was passed. "The only other things that have dropped 96 percent in the last two decades are Lycos searches and Tickle Me Elmo-related stampedes."
Other research agencies have followed the CDC's lead on abandoning firearm research. "The National Institute of Justice, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, funded 32 gun-related studies from 1993 to 1999, but none from 2009 to 2012," according to Todd C. Frankel of The Washington Post. "The institute briefly resumed some funding in 2013 and 2014, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, but has made no grants since then."
Without that research, we have no idea what works to prevent mass shootings. Maybe it is as simple as restricting access to assault rifles and other heavy-duty firearms. Maybe we need more armed guards at schools and other public venues to deter shootings. Maybe there are tactics for taking down rogue gunmen like the one who killed 59 people and wounded hundreds more in Las Vegas on Sunday. And we won't know as long as the Dickey Amendment remains in effect.
But there is a way to change that, according to Oliver. You have to steal a page from the NRA playbook and hound US senators and representatives, calling them today, on their birthdays, on Arbor Day and pretty much throughout the year to pressure them about repealing the Dickey Amendment. Which should be doable since repealing it wouldn't threaten the rights of gun owners.
"It's not gun control," Oliver noted. "It's enabling us to have an informed conversation about what [gun control] could look like."
And it's time we gave that serious consideration because we already know what a lack of effective gun policy looks like thanks to Sandy Hook, Orlando and Las Vegas.