There’s an article in the New York Times this week about an increase in private funding for research into what the author calls “gun violence research.” The real story is how the criminal misuse of firearms has been rebranded as a public health problem, versus what it really is: a criminal justice issue. As millions of law-abiding U.S. firearms owners, hunters, and sports shooters have known for centuries, guns are not a disease.
Despite the popularity of the rebranding efforts to make gun control sexy to a new generation, calling gun crimes a public health problem raises a major issue. Mis-identifying the problem ensures that no real solutions will be found.
No vaccine will be discovered. No pill will be developed. And more importantly, no solutions will be identified that can help tackle the actual drivers of crime, such as gang violence, illegal drugs, and poverty. Funneling billions of dollars into asking the wrong questions will only yield the wrong “answers.”
What Really Works
The firearms and ammunition industry knows this and has a long-standing history of acting to effect real changes that help make our communities safer.
The industry sees the major criminal justice problem of firearms getting into the hands of criminals prohibited under law from owning guns. Rather than calling this a disease, we work with ATF on initiatives such as Don’t Lie for the Other Guy and Operation Secure Store. All gun sales that go through a retailer are subject to an FBI background check, whether they are in a store, at a gun show or online. To help make sure these checks are as strong as possible, the industry launched the FixNICS initiative to ensure states and federal agencies are submitting the records that show someone is a prohibited person.
To help prevent accidents, unauthorized access and suicides, since 1999, the industry has led an initiative called Project ChildSafe, to promote firearms responsibility and provide safety education to all gun owners, young adults and children.
Through partnerships with more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, the program has provided more than 38 million free firearm safety kits to gun owners in all 50 states and the five U.S. territories to help prevent firearms accidents, theft and misuse. That’s in addition to the more than 70 million free locking devices manufacturers have included with new firearms sold since 1998 and continue to do today.
Rather than funding research into the wrong policy questions, we would encourage foundations and major donors to re-examine the actual drivers of criminal misuse of firearms. There are solutions to be implemented. But you won’t find them in a science lab.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.