Lack of conclusive gun control studies leads to cherry-picking season

Wes Morosky, owner of Duke's Sport Shop. left, helps Ron Detka as he shops for a rifle on Friday, March 2, 2018, at his store in New Castle. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

For the past few weeks, the gun control debate has been in the spotlight, with many calling for stricter gun laws to prevent more mass shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida. However, according to an analysis published by the RAND nonprofit organization, only 63% of studies on gun control legislation found any relationship between the laws and reduced gun violence. This does not help lawmakers, who need facts in order to determine what the most effective gun legislation could be.

The RAND analysis found little evidence that gun laws effect mass shootings, recreational gun use, or officer-involved shootings/other gun crimes. There is more evidence supporting the effectiveness of laws that prevent children from accessing guns (for example, mandating that guns be kept in a locked container), as well as laws that prohibit people diagnosed with mental illness from buying guns. There is also some evidence that “stand your ground laws” contribute to gun violence. However, the RAND organization states that good studies were “few and far between,” indicating that much of this data on gun regulations is inconclusive and still leaves much to figure out.

Just because there is little correlation to be found between gun laws and preventing gun violence does not mean that we should automatically assume that these laws are useless and that we should no longer focus on enacting gun regulations that work. Much of the problem is that there is a large lack of federal funding for gun control research. The government has no problem funding research for other issues such as car crashes, liver disease and sepsis, but it can’t be bothered to spend money on finding out how effective gun regulations could truly be. An NPR article from 2015 describes how the Center for Disease Control and Prevention can use no funds to research gun control because of a law from Congress restricting such research; they are worried it would be used “to advocate or promote gun control.” This is especially alarming because Congress is actively stopping scientific investigation for political purposes. It is interesting that former Arkansas representative Jay Dickey, who sponsored the bill preventing the CDC’s research, now wants the limit on the CDC to be repealed. In 2015 however, an amendment to expand research on gun control legislation was defeated in the House with no debate.

Factual information should not be restricted for political reasons; all lawmakers should be able to have all possible information provided to them in order for the most effective laws to be passed. The head of RAND’s gun policy initiative, Andrew Morral, says that the lack of thorough research into gun laws “creates this kind of fact-free environment in which people can cherry-pick any study that happens to support what their priors are on the effects of the law.” In today’s political environment, where cherry-picking facts is a part of life for both political parties, this lack of definitive information does not help the situation. Because the different studies RAND analyzed often came to opposite conclusions, the potential for picking facts to support both sides of the gun debate is very high. There needs to be more definitive and conclusive research done on these laws in order to find out if gun control regulations could indeed have an effect on gun violence, and the extent to which they work. When lawmakers have this information, they can enact laws that will actually help decrease violence, rather than doing nothing, or passing politicized laws that ultimately do not work. The first step towards this is letting organizations like the CDC perform research. In order for this to happen, Congress must repeal their law preventing it.

Ben Crnic is a contributor for the The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at