Preventing Gun Violence in Spotlight Nationally, But in RI?

Jun 6, 2013

As far as I can tell from the Rhode Island General Assembly's online legislation tracker, not a single bill dealing with reducing firearm violence has made it out of committee. Most have been recommended "held for further study," a kind of legislative purgatory, although some bills could be revived at the last minute.

Seized guns
Credit Flo Jonic / RIPR

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, lawmakers nationwide introduced bills to thwart gun violence, Rhode Islanders included. Gun control advocates said the timing seemed right. Those against further gun control dug in, including here in the Ocean State, as my colleague Ian Donnis has reported. Whether they played a role in derailing legislation here, I don't know.

But there's renewed attention on the public health threat of gun violence, which I've also reported on (in this Q&A about gun background checks and why researchers consider guns a public health threat, and in this post about the long moratorium on public health research into gun ownership and gun violence). The Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academy of Sciences, and kind of the nation's main medical policy advisor) has come up with a list of priorities for public health research on reducing gun violence, research that's long been a political hot potato. The impetus:

"In January 2013, President Barack Obama issued 23 executive orders directing federal agencies to improve knowledge of the causes of firearm violence, what might help prevent it, and how to minimize its burden on public health. One of these orders directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to, along with other federal agencies, immediately begin identifying the most pressing problems in firearm violence research."

The IOM says that first we need a better understanding of the basic characteristics of firearm-related violence. Then we need better data on firearms (there's no centralized database, of course, of firearms and who owns them out there, for instance). And next, they recommend research into public health-style prevention strategies and interventions (think: seatbelts, childproof caps on pill bottles, etc.). There's more to their recommendations, but that's the big picture.

So what? Well, federal grant-making agencies could use the IOM's recommendations to determine what kind of research to fund. And now we wait and see what researchers learn and whether their findings can be applied to reduce deaths and injuries.

In Rhode Island, who knows whether firearms-related legislation recommended "held for further study" will make it to the governor's desk, or whether those bills, if signed, could actually lead to reductions in firearms-related violence?