January 15, 2013
For those of us with short memories, it can be difficult to understand the militant absolutism of the National Rifle Association. How did the group get so powerful? Why does it refuse to compromise, even when compromise seems inescapable? Has it always expressed contempt for the federal government?
In an illuminating and timely look back at the NRA, reporters Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham, and Sari Horwitz of The Washington Post answer these questions and more. With President Obama, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, and others pushing for new gun-control legislation, it's useful to know more about the NRA, to get a sense of how it might respond to this new legislative push.
January 2, 2013
Immediately after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Ct., I called on science reporters to take on the job of reporting the facts on gun violence, including what is known from research about the dangers of guns and how to reduce them.
A good opportunity to write about research on gun control arose on Dec. 28, when the New England Journal of Medicine published three commentaries on the legacy of gun violence, preventing gun deaths, and the risks of violence in the mentally ill. These were commentaries, not research articles, but they offered leads for further reporting on gun research.
December 26, 2012
At the National Journal, the long-time reporter and commentator Gwen Ifill of PBS Newshour turned in a post on Dec. 21 headlined "The Truth of Gun Politics: No One Has Good Answers."
The post, under the rubric "Gwen's Take," is supposed to be one of those comments from a seasoned professional that cuts through the verbiage and is willing to speak the naked truth.
December 18, 2012
It now appears that Washington will engage in a debate over gun control, and possibly go beyond a feckless "national conversation" and actually do something. Gun control is on the agenda: but beware who is controlling the agenda.
Much of the talk in the first two business days after the Newtown, CT shooting involves suggestions to restrict the use of guns by people with mental illness, as reported in Science Times by Richard A. Friedman, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan and a regular Times contributor.
It's hard to argue with that. Guns shouldn't be in the hands of crazy people who are likely to use them to commit murder. But there are two problems with this emerging "national conversation" about guns and mental illness.
December 17, 2012
Before we says anything about Newtown, a moment of silence.
As science reporters sit down at their desks on this very sad Monday morning (I'm sure I'm not the only one still in the emotional grip of this thing), we need to get to work. It's essential that we do not hand over this story to the political reporters, who will be interested in which party has leverage on gun control, how the NRA is mobilizing, what the prospects are for passage of a gun-control bill, and whether opponents of a bill will predicate their support on cuts in health care or entitlements or another unrelated issue. Political reporters are more likely than science reporters to repeat, without challenge, the myth and misinformation that will surely bubble from politicians' mouths.
There is plenty for science reporters to write about here. Why are the killers so often young adult men? What is it about schools that has led them to replace post offices as frequent scenes of mass murder? What do we know, and what do we need to know, about preventing such crimes?
August 15, 2012
Whenever a mass killing occurs, such as the recent tragedies at the movie theater in Colorado or the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, we get reams of speculation about why the killer did it. Many of the explanations, as I've written here before, consist of amateur or long-distance psychiatric diagnosis, in which people who should know better attempt to diagnose people they have never met.
Only occasionally do we see something as insightful and thought-provoking as a short post in Britain's The Independent, written by Alex Bryan, a freelance writer and student at the University of York. Bryan argues that we can get some insight into these horrific acts by looking a little further back--to Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.
August 14, 2012
Two interesting items from Nature this week:
Much of the reporting I read on the mass shooting in the Colorado theater or the Sikh killings failed to mention the two most recent U.S. government studies of gun deaths. One found that people living in homes with guns faced "a 2.7-fold greater risk of homicide" and a "4.8-fold greater risk of suicide," compared to those in homes without guns. The studies were reported in an editorial in the Aug. 9 issue of Nature.
You might be wondering why these studies were not referred to more widely, and the reason is that the studies--the newest major U.S. government research on the subject--were published in 1993 ad 1992, respectively.
"Ever since, Congress has included in annual spending laws the stipulation that none of the CDC's injury-prevention funds 'may be used to advocate or promote gun control,'" Nature reported.