Federal data collection should not be blocked

No business would prohibit its research arm from tracking a problem that threatened the lives of its employees. Similarly, Congress would not prohibit the National Institutes of Health from researching the causes of diabetes or melanomas.

But in 1996 Congress did prohibit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from keeping data on incidents of gun violence: accidental shootings, homicides and suicides.

Republicans and some Democrats in Congress — doing the work of the National Rifle Association — wanted to quash the burgeoning movement of public health physicians who argued that the large number of gun woundings and deaths should be treated as a public health issue. The NRA construed that research to be tantamount to a drive for gun control.

Ten years later, one man is willing to take back that vote. He is former U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey, a Republican of Arkansas.

Last week, Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden joined 16 senators who argue that the CDC should “establish an integrated public-health research agenda to understand the causes of gun violence and identify the most effective strategies for prevention.”

David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health is a leading proponent of this idea. Hemenway’s important book is “Private Guns, Public Health.”

Hemenway’s publishers note: “On an average day in the United States, guns are used to kill almost 80 people, and to wound nearly 300 more.”

We have an epidemic in incidents of gun violence. If a member of Congress doesn’t understand that, he also probably doesn’t know that Donald Trump is running for president.

Sen. Wyden says: “As a nation, we can no longer just shrug our shoulders at the tragic roll of shootings that Oregon sadly knows all too well. I have long held that tackling mental health is a key to solving our country’s epidemic of mass shootings, and firmly believe that treating gun violence from a public health perspective is a necessary and long-overdue step toward achieving that goal.”

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