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Edelman: To address gun violence, remove barriers that keep us from being armed with data

A mass shooting is a single incident, excluding gang- or drug-related shootings, in which at least three people are shot, excluding the shooter. The Gun Violence Archive tallies 255 such shootings out of more than 34,000 gun-related incidents so far this year. The Wikipedia page listing mass shootings in the United States in 2019 reports 23 have taken place since the mass murder at the Gilroy Garlic Festival July 28. There is little room to debate whether or not America has a problem with gun violence. We do.

In order to solve a problem, especially one as intractable as this one, we need to know its root causes, which means we need to gather data.

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I recently had to take a computer in to fix a hardware problem. After I went over the symptoms, the tech ran diagnostics to identify the specific component that was failing. She didn’t take a shotgun approach — “Let’s see if this works, and if it doesn’t, we’ll try Plan B." She used the information she gathered to make repairs.

Gun violence is among the most persistent, wicked and destructive problems facing our nation. It’s critical to have valid information about what causes this societal disease in order to take effective steps to mitigate it. We don’t.

The Federal Government is constrained by the NRA-sponsored Dickey Amendment, which states: "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control." That piece of legislation was passed in 1996, after CDC-funded research found that murder rates are higher in households with firearms. Even though the amendment doesn’t ban research, there is evidence that CDC officials feared political retribution in the form of draconian budget cuts insisted on by legislators in the NRA’s pocket. Several attempts have been made to repeal Dickey, but it remains on the books. It needs to go. Unless we are armed with facts, there are just too many rabbit holes we could go down.

Some claim that playing violent video games contributes to gun violence. Kids in Japan play the same games as they do in Taneytown, but Japan does not have Sandy Hooks.

Social media is under attack for fomenting a culture of violence. Radical right wing sites are home to racism, hatred, bigotry and all of the other components of white supremacy. We think those sites are a factor in pushing impressionable kids to violence, but we cannot say with certainty that they do.

Mental illness is a common target for those trying to explain the violence epidemic. We don’t know if that is true, but if it were, then we would have to concede that Americans suffer from mental illness at rates much higher than all European nations. On the other hand, we might accept that there is no relationship between gun violence and mental illness. Without facts, we are just guessing.

The fact is that we cannot delay taking some action to stop the bloodshed.

Recent polls show that more than 90% of all Americans want better background checks on gun purchases. Earlier this year, a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives passed HR8, which closes loopholes in background checks for gun sales. Even the President said he wants better background checks. HR112 extends the time for completing background checks and closes another loophole. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among the top recipients of NRA campaign donations, has refused to bring them to the floor for a vote.

Fifteen states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of so-called "red flag laws, which allow relatives or police to petition a judge to order the temporary removal of firearms from people who may present a risk to themselves or others. Would a national red flag law have stopped the atrocities we saw just days ago? We’ll never know unless we try.

Almost all the mass shootings we have endured in the past years have used some form of assault rifle with high-capacity magazines. Those weapons are made with one purpose in mind — firing large numbers of rounds in the shortest possible time. They’re designed for use in battle. They’re not for hunting or sports use or self-defense. The Dayton shooter fired 41 rounds in less than a half-minute. Sale and ownership of hardware capable of killing one person and wounding more every 2 seconds should come to an end.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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