It Takes a Tragedy

By David Michaels

In the U.S., we see an average of one gun-related homicide every 45 minutes, or 32 each day.* These are usually treated as isolated incidents, until a horrific event like the Virginia Tech massacre reawakens the public and strengthens public health advocates who are attempting to prevent gun violence.

That’s what has just happened in Georgia. There, legislation that would allow employees to keep guns in workplace parking lots went down to an unpredicted defeat.  Of course,  the National Rifle Association “never stopped arm-twisting Georgia lawmakers,” an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial reports. Lyle V. Harris, for the editorial board, writes:

With opposition mounting and the session drawing to a close, NRA backers in the state Senate combined portions of [the workplace bill and a bill that would permit motorists to hide guns] and prepared to ram the legislation into law. But after the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, some supporters of the bill backed off.

“A lot of us don’t believe that a day after the gun shooting at Virginia Tech, the massacre of 30-some students, that it would be appropriate to be taking up really any gun bill right now,” said Sen. Don Balfour, chairman of the Rules Committee.

After that rare moment of legislative pragmatism and moral clarity, the NRA went ballistic. Facing defeat, a top NRA lobbyist from Washington made his rounds at the state capitol where he reportedly issued veiled threats to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and other lawmakers, promising political retribution if they dared to disobey the organization’s instructions.

While some Senate Republicans were ready to buckle to blackmail, others refused, maintaining at least a modicum of respect for themselves and the institution in which they serve.

Thankfully, the NRA’s legislation failed. The Florida legislature also voted down a similar bill this week. Given this week’s events, the results weren’t surprising. When the toll of preventable and pointless deaths or injuries from any single event or related events becomes so great, or particular aspects of the story bring it to the public’s attention, our nation invariably demands more and stronger regulation, not less.

We saw this recently with the disaster at West Virginia’s Sago Mine, when a mine explosion and failed rescue attempts resulted in the deaths of 14 miners. Within months,Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act.

Many important laws that strengthened our regulatory system were enacted after disasters. The Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 was passed soon after the Farmington Mine Disaster (78 deaths), and the Scotia Mine Disaster in 1976 (26 deaths) was soon followed by the passage of Federal Mine Safety and Health Act Of 1977.

This is not true only of recent times. On the heels of the Elixir Sulfanilamide scandal, in which a medicine manufactured with antifreeze killed scores of children, Congress passed the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, requiring for the first time that pharmaceutical manufacturers prove the safety of their products before marketing them.

It’s hard to count all of the lives that this Act has saved, but one example stands out: The United States avoided the plague of thalidomide-related birth defects that ravaged Europe in the early 1960s as a result of controls granted the FDA under that legislation. A regulatory hero, FDA medical officer Dr. Frances Kelsey, had blocked U.S. licensing of thalidomide on the basis of inadequate safety data.

Still, the European debacle was sufficiently alarming that Congress amended the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (with the 1962 Kefauver Harris Amendment) requiring for the first time that drug manufacturers prove their products were both effective and safe before the FDA would license them.

It is not surprising that, in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, the NRA’s initiatives failed. But weeks and months from now, as the pain and anguish we all felt watching reports of the Blacksburg killings fade, the NRA will no doubt be back, pushing legislation that stands in the way of preventing gun violence.

* Calculation derived from 2004 homicide deaths involving firearms (data source: CDC’s WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports).

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

Comments

  1. #1 Tasha
    April 20, 2007

    Workplace homicide is only one reason why the gun bills were ill-advised. One of the news articles that I read pointed out that guns at certain industrial plants could be a combination for danger – particularly in areas where gun fire would be enough to spark an explosion.

  2. #2 Metro
    April 23, 2007

    It has occurred to me that the people being permitted to frame this debate are exactly the wrong people.

    The NRA consists of people who have invested enormous amounts of time, effort, and their personalitied in their weaponry. So whenever someone approaches them with anything approaching reasonable compromise, i.e. the Assault Weapons ban, which seems to have had a real and positive effect on gun violence, they immediately feel threatened and start screaming slogans like a Japanese marketing executive.

    No-one should be listening to them anymore. They should be allowed to go get a room somewhere and have their enormous lead love-in while the adults get on with the discussion.

  3. #3 Peggy Moore
    August 20, 2009

    People that think gun laws and restrictions will stop crime live in a fantasy world. If it was so easy to controll illigal matters why don’t they stop drugs that would stop a lot of crime in its self.

  4. #4 Jack
    August 25, 2009

    Unbeliveable! If you don’t want to carry a firearm, don’t! But “don’t” try and tell me that I can not. Think about this, Hitler, over 6 million, Jo Stallion 26 million, Pol Pot over 3+ million, Chan Kie Check over 70 million of the best school teacher’s and thinker’s of that country. So go ahead, take you Gun Control and Die. For surly the one’s YOU vote for will KILL you in the End!

  5. #5 tom swift
    September 18, 2009

    This article is, logically, totally inside out.

    The current gun-control laws failed to prevent the “Virginia Tech tragedy.” It’s futile to claim that they are good laws – they obviously don’t work. Further, it takes a paragon of mendacity to argue that that old bugaboo, the NRA, can be blamed for such things; the NRA is not responsible for these arbitrary and ineffective gun laws.

  6. #6 Del
    September 21, 2009

    So, I guess since seatbelts haven’t prevented all auto fatalities, we should give up and stop putting them in cars? Incomplete success of laws doesn’t make them useless.

  7. #7 Common Sense and Logic
    November 12, 2009

    Metro, I’ve never heard such a misinformed, pointless, and otherwise ignorant statement. The assault weapons ban was a joke, which had no effect on crime. If you disagree then, by all means, site a source, prove it! The ban effected weapons based solely on appearance, not function.

    “Let the grown ups” continue the debate? So the people who represent me and millions like me should not have a voice? Is it your belief that the only people who should own guns be criminals? As you know, criminals dont obey the law, so how does a law have any impact on them? We should all lay down our only means of self defense right? Yeah, that worked well at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Columbine, Luby’s Restaurant in Texas…. Why is it that ALL mass shootings occur in “no gun zones”? Didn’t they read the sign? Guns were not allowed in those places, but somehow dozens of people managed to get shot in each case. Maybe it’s because laws and regulations mean nothing to someone who plans on breaking the law anyway. So how do you propose I defend against that, call the police? Great, that’ll stop ‘em. How many people will die in the next mass shooting waiting for the police to arrive, when anyone of the intended victims would have had a chance to fight back if they were not disarmed by your closed minded, illogical, method of thinking? Use your brain man!

  8. #8 Sam
    November 12, 2009

    Virginia state law allows universities to prohibit students, faculty, and staff members with gun permits from carrying their weapons on campus.

    Virginia Tech had policies on the books prohibiting guns in the classroom.

    Did this stop them from their murderous rampage? No, it did not.

  9. #9 Common Sense and Logic
    November 12, 2009

    What?!!! How does this even come close to a good comparison? How about this? Seat belts save lives / guns save lives, so if your in a car then you must weear a seat belt and if you’re out and about doing your daily routine, then you must be armed. I like that. There’s a good comparison. You know, when our new savior and oh mighty lord took office he said common sense laws. I’m still waiting for the common sense part.

  10. #10 Orygunner
    November 12, 2009

    What a rediculous leap of illogic! Because guns are used by criminals to kill people, we should make gun free zones that have proven their failure to keep out guns?

    What happens if useful tools are mis-used in a workplace? The causes are investigated, training is incorporated, safety percautions are put in place. Are the tools BANNED COMPLETELY? Of course not! If a tool has a useful purpose and can be used safely with better training, the tool is kept and safety steps are put in place.

    Here’s the kick in the pants to the argument: for almost all jobs, guns aren’t even USED in the workplace. They’re not a tool of the trade, unless you’re a police officer or in the business of armed security. To completely ban something from a workplace (or school) that isn’t even work related, and that amost all of the people are going to be responsible with makes as much sense as banning staplers because some people like to stick them in other people’s backs.

    “Metro”‘s comments that the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban had any effect on gun violence at all only shows a complete lack of knowledge and actually made me laugh out loud. The so-called “Assault weapons” not only have only ever been involved with about 1% of total firearm related crimes, but the “scary” factor of these “assault weapons” goes down considerably once people realize they’re a) functionally IDENTICAL to any other semi-automatic firearm used for hunting or target shooting, b) none of the “scary features” like barrel shrouds, bayonet lugs, pistol grips, folding stocks, or flash suppressors make them any more dangerous or deadly, and c) the only solid definition of “assault weapon” is a firearm that LOOKS LIKE a military firearm – No army in the WORLD uses the firearms effected by the 1994 “ban.”

    If you examine the rate of violent firearm-related crime before and after any gun control has been enacted anywhere in the world, and factor in everything else responsible for the rate of violent crime, you will not find anywhere, at any point in history, where gun control can be proven to work as advertised – It does not significantly reduce violent crime (and has some nasty unintended consequences).

  11. #11 Parabarbarian
    November 12, 2009

    This guy is not interested in logic or in reason. He wants the criminals to have the upper hand because the fear they cause will give him power over you. He is like the Neanderthal men in The Clan of the Cave Bear who would not let a woman even touch a weapon lest the power of the men be diminished. He secretly imagines himself near the top of the hierarchy and wants to preserve its power at all costs.

  12. #12 Glockgemini
    November 13, 2009

    I can’t call my M1A an assult weapon becuase it isn’t full auto or even switchable to full auto.

    The liberal mindset can be called an assault weapon because I definitely feel assaulted after reading the mindless, propagandic drivel It doesn’t matter how many time their talking points have been disproved, they keep spouting them. Of course, facts and the truth have never been important to the left-wing groups.

  13. #13 peterpiperpickledpepper
    November 16, 2009

    What really gets to me is that whenever I read a piece citing gun control as wonderful, effective, working, etc, the people supporting gun control is vastly outnumbered by those with the obvious intellect to notice that gun control does not, have never, and will never work. So through my observation on this subject, I can only conclude that persons for gun control is like the schoolyard bully who backs off when confronted, or they lack the intellect to use technologies like the internet … or a keyboard.

    My second question would be “How on earth did these politicians make it to office when they clearly display a total disregard for the people they are supposed to serve?”

    Gun control does not work. If you honestly think that less guns = less crime, look at Switzerland and Brittain as two extremes and realise that the opposite rings true. Switzerland has the least restrictive gun laws in the world, with their goverment issuing every male between 18-24 with a fully automatic rifle. Yet Switzerland is rated as the country with the lowest gun crime.

    Brittain has the most restrictive gun laws in Europe. Yet their gun crime is virtually out of control, and knife crime common place. Police are arming themselves lately, where during the times of less restrictive gun control, their police force did not need to be armed.

    Australia banned all handguns, yet within one year, robberies involving handguns went up 44%.

    Gun control has nothing to do with guns, but everything to do about control.

    When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.