Attention, law-abiding supporters of the Second Amendment: No one is coming for your guns.
It's understandable that you might get the wrong idea, especially when elected officials (who should know better) from members of Congress to Oregon county sheriffs vow to resist federal efforts they deem unconstitutional.
Not only is that not their job — the courts determine what is and is not constitutional, not county sheriffs — the only guns that have been proposed for any kind of restriction are military-style assault weapons such as the AR-15 used to murder 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Only Congress can pass an assault-weapons ban, and it is extremely unlikely it will do so.
President Obama has said he thinks sales of the guns should be banned, along with magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Again, he can't do this without Congress, and he's not proposing to.
But here's an interesting fact about all the various steps that are being debated in the wake of Newtown: No one, including Obama, knows whether any of them will work.
Why? Because the National Rifle Association convinced Congress in 1998 to pass a law barring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting any research to "advocate or promote gun control." The NRA has successfully blocked other research funding as well: The National Institutes of Health has awarded exactly three research grants for the study of firearms injuries in the past 40 years.
Of course, it's entirely possible to conduct research that neither advocates nor opposes gun control. In practice, however, the CDC simply stopped doing much research at all for fear of violating the law. Its annual spending on gun research dropped from $2.5 million a year to less than $100,000 a year.
As a result, no reliable data exists to guide Congress in enacting gun legislation that might actually reduce deaths and injuries from guns. Emily Badger, a staff writer for The Atlantic Cities, an online effort of the magazine, lists some of the basic questions no one can answer because studies have not been done. Here are just a few examples of our national ignorance:
Gun-rights advocates and gun-control supporters may think they know the answers to some of these questions. But they don't, because reliable research has not been done.
So far, the NRA has managed to make sure the nation remains in the dark. Apparently the gun lobby is afraid of what real research might reveal.
The president's executive order should begin to shed some light on these questions. Congress should stand up to the gun lobby and fund more studies.