Ex-Fed Prosecutors Call for Gun Research Modeled on 1970s National Traffic Safety Effort

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Shooter at a gun club. Photo by Peretz Partensky via flickr

As Congress continues to be mired in what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls a “holding pattern” on gun control legislation, 30 former prosecutors and government officials have called on lawmakers to authorize $50 million for expanded research into the root causes of gun violence and the best ways to address them.

“We do not need knee-jerk legislative responses based upon political positioning rather than critical research and analysis,” said the letter, which was dated Sept. 12 but released this week.

“The stakes are too high to simply pass laws which are more effective at assuaging our need to do something rather than actually preventing gun violence.”

President Donald Trump has already said he would veto a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, but McConnell said Tuesday he is hopeful there are other gun-related proposals that Congress can approve and Trump can support.

Six weeks after a pair of mass shootings killed more than 30 people, Congress remains “in a holding pattern” on gun control as lawmakers await proposals from the White House, McConnell said.

“I still await guidance from the White House as to what (Trump) thinks he’s comfortable signing,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters, according to the Associated Press. “If and when that happens, then we’ll have a real possibility of actually changing the law and hopefully making some progress.”

But Trump may have now raised the barriers to Congressional action even further.

In a tweet earlier Wednesday, he blamed Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke for making it “much harder” for him to reach a bipartisan deal with Democrats on gun control legislation in the wake of a string of mass shootings.

“Dummy Beto,” he said, had convinced many Americans that Democrats wanted to take their guns away, after saying during last week’s Democratic presidential debate that his (O’Rourke’s) administration would not only ban assault weapons but confiscate them from individuals who already owned them, reported The Hill.

 The letter from prosecutors made clear that such political squabbling did little to address the real issues posed by gun violence.

“Our history suggests that the model of conducting meaningful research and data analysis of a problem, and then enacting responsive policies based upon the data, evidence, and conclusion of such research yields more effective results,” they wrote.

The prosecutors cited the example of the creation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the 1970s, which mobilized “hundreds of millions of dollars” in research  in response to the growing deaths from road and traffic accidents—which it said led to “safety standards that have saved more than 600,000 lives over the last 40 years.”

“In a sad irony,” the letter added. “Deaths from gun violence have surpassed traffic fatalities.”

The letter cited data showing there were over 39,000 gun violence deaths (two-thirds of which caused by suicides)  in 2017, compared to 37,133 traffic fatalities in the same year.

The letter noted that Congress in 2018 had removed earlier restrictions on gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), earmarking up to $25 million each to the CDC and the National Institute of Health—but there was still no money on the table.

They called for an additional $50 million to fund a “diverse portfolio” of research that could include areas of mental health, suicide, intimate partner homicides, defensive gun use, enforcement of existing laws and police training and safety.

According to the prosecutors, other agencies such as the Veterans Administration and the National Institute of Justice could also use hefty research grants to “meaningfully contribute to the landscape of data-driven research.”

“There is no question that a serious effort aimed at getting to the root causes of mass shootings and gun violence will provide the best opportunity to fashion effective solutions—policymaking backed by data and evidence,” the letter said.

The prosecutors, who described themselves as an “informal group” of former federal prosecutors and senior government officials” said many of them had been involved in helping their communities deal with the aftermath of mass shootings.

The letter released this week follows a similar call earlier this month by 145 CEOs of leading American corporations calling for action on gun legislation.

Signers of the letter included: Michael Mukasey, former U.S. Attorney General; Paul Cassell, former Associate Deputy Attorney General; William Cummings, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Ed Yarbrough, former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee; Mel McDonald, former U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Ohio; Tim Johnson, former U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Texas; and David Coar, former U.S. District Judge, Northern District of Illinois.

A copy of the letter can be accessed here.

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