What’s missing from the gun debate: Science

The NRA likes to argue that research about gun violence inherently threatens gun rights. But it is possible—indeed, necessary—for scientists to find ways to both reduce gun violence and protect gun rights. Look at cancer research. In finding the best chemotherapy for a patient, there are two goals: first, to stop the cancer, and second, to protect the patient’s kidneys, heart and liver. There are many drugs that will stop the cancer, but most of them will also damage the patient’s vital organs to the point that he or she will die. That’s why cancer research aims to find treatments that are both effective and safe. It is the same with gun violence: We need to find interventions that will both stop the violence and protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners. For instance, right now we don’t know whether arming all teachers in a school will save lives or take more lives. We don’t know whether making it easier for people to carry concealed weapons will save lives or result in more deaths. And we don’t know whether banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles will prevent mass shootings or lead to more gun deaths because there will be fewer good guys with a gun to stop the bad guys with guns. To answer the question, we also have to measure the degree to which each intervention infringes on the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Only rigorous, objective and well-designed scientific research can find the answer.

What’s more, it is irresponsible and even dangerous for lawmakers to change gun policies without knowing what measures are both safe and effective.

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