Editorials

Know who should support a study on gun violence in America? Gun owners

AR-15: The gun behind so many mass shootings

The AR-15 assault rifle is commonly used in mass shootings in the United States. Here's a closer look at likely reasons why.
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The AR-15 assault rifle is commonly used in mass shootings in the United States. Here's a closer look at likely reasons why.

Guns, not surprisingly, continue to be in the news. Following another spate of mass shootings in recent weeks (Dayton, El Paso, Odessa), Walmart announced that it would stop selling certain ammunition and asked customers not to open-carry in their stores. Walgreens and CVS then asked customers not to open-carry. Kroger, parent company of the Fred Meyer chain, also asked customers not to open-carry and went a little further, calling for common-sense gun reform. Albertsons followed suit this week in asking its customers not to open-carry in its stores.

In an odd twist last week, Ammon Bundy, who led an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 and was involved in an armed standoff with federal authorities in 2014 in Nevada but was not convicted of any crime, said he was denied the ability to purchase an AR-15 because he failed a background check. He then later reported that his denial was reversed, and he was given permission to purchase a gun.

Taking into consideration what appears to be government incompetence on several fronts in Bundy’s case, the fiasco illustrates the challenges of regulating guns in America.

On the one hand, you could argue that this is exactly the kind of person you don’t want to have a gun: a guy who led an armed standoff against the federal government in taking over a national wildlife refuge. On the other hand, Bundy ended up being cleared of any wrongdoing and didn’t hit any criteria for being denied on his background check, so his denial appeared to be arbitrary at best, political or malicious at worst, an argument for getting the government out of the list-making business.

But the fact remains that more private businesses are getting on board with gun control measures, and the public becomes angrier and less tolerant with each passing mass shooting in America. Polls continue to show Americans’ increasing support for things such as expanded background checks, red-flag laws and even outright bans on “assault weapons.” The consensus with each passing tragedy is to “do something.”

The problem is that no one really knows for sure what that something might be. While one side will argue that banning assault weapons has worked in the past and would work again, the other side says it won’t. There’s a study here and a study there, a comparison to one country or another, but no one has any definitive answers.

That’s because Congress has declined to fund gun research over what’s known as the Dickey Amendment, a budgeting rule that prohibits Congress from allocating money to advocate for or promote gun control. So, in effect, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have not received federal funding to research gun violence, lest that research result in findings that support some measure of gun control. De facto, it became a prohibition on gun research.

It would be akin to the government banning research on cancer rates among cigarette smokers out of fear that the research would conclude that people should stop smoking cigarettes. Or that automobile manufacturers would pressure Congress not to study automobile deaths for fear that such research would conclude that all automobiles should have shoulder seat belts or airbags in order to save millions of lives.

Here’s the No. 1 group that needs to get involved in the conversation: gun-rights groups.

Otherwise, gun owners are going to wake up one day and find out that the government, under increasing public pressure, just passed a law that bans that Ruger 10/22 squirrel gun that you got as a Christmas present when you were 10 years old.

According to a Fox News poll last month, when asked about measures to reduce gun violence, two-thirds of Americans said they favor a ban on assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, perhaps not knowing that most handguns are semi-automatic or that the Ruger 10/22 “plinking” rifle is a semi-automatic.

That poll result is a 7-point increase from when the question was asked in March 2018, from 60 percent of respondents to 67 percent.

At the very least, Reps. Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson, as well as Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, should get on board with funding a study of gun violence in America, its causes and its solutions.

It’s entirely possible, at the end of the day, such a study would conclude that background checks, assault weapons bans and red-flag laws wouldn’t do a lick of good, finally putting to rest all those calls for gun control, and that the best tactic for solving our country’s gun violence program is by increasing funding for crisis treatment centers or bringing back involuntary mental commitments.

But until we have those answers, we’re just shooting in the dark.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board.
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