I have lived in South Florida over 20 years now, and I do not remember anything grabbing and holding our community’s consciousness more than the February 14 shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (in Broward County). In its aftermath, the more we hear about the events of that day, the more alarming it becomes. This is the sort of tragedy that haunts children in profound ways. I have had conversations with my two teenage daughters about the relative safety of their schools, and what would happen if the formerly unthinkable occurred.
It’s hard to keep track of all the news coverage. Certainly, there are many on all sides of the gun issue that engage in sensationalism and scare tactics. Sadly, the voice of the so-called “reasonable middle” often is silenced by the loud voices on the fringes. I sincerely, but mistakenly, thought that after the horrific shooting at Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 (with the deaths of 20 first graders and 6 adults) leaders would take meaningful action.
Is gun violence a bioethics issue? A research letter published in JAMA in early 2017 says as much. After citing several powerful statistics, the authors write: “Compared with other leading causes of death, gun violence was associated with less funding and fewer publications than predicted based on mortality rate.” The debate is over the impact of the Dickey Amendment, passed in 1996, which states that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Some Republicans in Congress say that the CDC is allowed to do research into gun violence even under the Dickey Amendment, but the evidence presented by Stark and Shah suggests that it is not being done. Other Republicans have stated that the Dickey Amendment should be revisited. According to www.thehill.com, Rep. Bob Goodlatte from Virginia said that it would be appropriate for lawmakers to review the policy. He is quoted as saying, “I don’t think it’s inappropriate — particularly if the original author of that says it should be examined — to take a look at it . . . to see if there is a way to do that, to promote the cause, the core pursuit of the Centers for Disease Control, which is to prevent disease, not to address issues related to things that happen because someone has a disease like mental illness.”
Clearly, the subject of guns is controversial. Would CDC research into gun violence help affirm human dignity? Or, would the research be too politically biased to be of any value? Might there be some valuable data gathered that could help address this most tragic of issues? This is a conversation worth having.