These lyrics are from Jefferson’s Airplane’s White Rabbit, the classic 1967 psychedelic song based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (and a thinly veiled reference to the rampant drug use of the times).
But I think the lyrics also describe today’s political discourse: on so many issues, “logic, and proportion, have fallen sloppy dead.” We live in a time when evidence is disregarded, fact checkers ignored. When confrontation is favored over conversation. When moderation, in tone and substance, is considered to be weakness; and over-the-top rhetoric, strength. When you don’t just disagree with someone, you hate them, or at least, you hate what they stand for. When social media allows people to rant and rail, and shame and bully others, hiding their identities behind anonymous Twitter handles.
Take the issue of preventing injuries and deaths from firearms. Logic tells us that when a typical day, more than 90 Americans are killed by firearms, we have a problem and the status quo of firearms policy isn’t working. Logic tells us that when more than 20,000 people each year kill themselves with a gun, we have a problem and the status quo of firearms policy isn’t working. Logic tells us that when hundreds of children each year get shot or shoot others because of unsecured and loaded guns in their homes, we have a problem and the status quo of firearms policy isn’t working. Logic tells us that when our own workplaces, malls, city streets, colleges and elementary schools are not safe from firearms-related violence, we have a problem and the status quo of firearms policy isn’t working.
Yet even the most modest of efforts to address the problem of firearms-related injuries and deaths—by allowing the scientists at the NIH and CDC to research its causes and effects, just like they research the impact of smoking on health—has attracted a storm of opposition from the NRA and politicians aligned with the organization. In fact, at the NRA’s urging, Congress since 1996 has flatly prohibited the agencies from using any funds to conduct research on gun violence. On December 1, ACP joined with dozens of other health-advocacy organizations to urge Congress to lift the gun violence research ban. On December 9, we sent our own letter to House and Senate appropriators on our funding priorities that included a request that they end the research ban, and on Thursday, we issued an advocacy alert asking our members to call their representative and Senators to urge the same. At the time this blog was posted, the fate of the ban was the subject of negotiations between House Republicans and Democrats, with the outcome still to be determined.
But what I do know is this: all of the logic, and all of the evidence we have for allowing government scientists to research how to prevent gun violence, won’t sway those who are opposed to any and all efforts that, in their minds, might lead to restrictions on guns. Just like all of the logic and evidence that ACP has marshaled on the broader issue of reducing injuries and deaths from firearms, and the modest and sensible and, according to the American Bar Association, constitutional solutions to gun violence that we and 59 other health advocacy groups have put forward (like closing the private sale loophole in the federal background check system), won’t sway those who view any limits on guns, no matter how modest and sensible, to be an unacceptable assault on their freedom.
Rather, our efforts to apply logic and evidence to reducing firearms-related injuries and deaths often are greeted with vitriol. Typical was an email we received after we sent out our call to action on the gun research ban: “You people are pathetic. The last 3 terrorist (can I use the term) attacks were in GUN FREE ZONES. More people die in Chicago every weekend another gun free zone. What weapons are worse AR 15’s or AK 47’s. By the way ,by definition) neither one is an assault weapon. Stick to medicine you morons!” Similarly, when I tweeted about the need for evidence based policies to address gun violence through my @bobdohertyACP twitter account, I got many mentions and retweets, but also dozens of anonymous posts that ranged from dismissive to insulting to threatening.
I have a thick skin and I am well aware that anonymous Twitter posts are not representative and can bring out the worst in people; what is more concerning to me is that our elected representatives also seem impervious to the logic and evidence on the need to reduce gun violence, just like they are on so many issues. I am also concerned about the seeming lack of proportionality in the reaction of many of those who oppose even the most modest of gun restrictions: universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, folks, is not Nazi-style tyranny.
The United States is facing huge problems that need to be addressed through calm, reasoned discourse, informed by evidence and analysis. Sure, we can and should have a healthy debate over how best to prevent firearms violence—each side should put their facts, their evidence, and their supporting rationales out there, let’s respectfully dissect and challenge each other, and then, let’s decide on a sensible and informed course of action.
But if in the debate over guns we allow logic and proportion to fall sloppy dead, then the status quo will prevail and tens of thousands will die as a result.
Today’s question: Can’t we at least agree that allowing the CDC and NIH scientists to conduct research on the causes and effects of gun violence would be a good starting point?