GOPsters Fighting The War On Science Have Blood On Their Hands

First, consider this, from Nate Silver:

An American child grows up in a married household in the suburbs. What are the chances that his family keeps a gun in their home?

…the odds vary significantly based on the political identity of the child’s parents. If they identify as Democratic voters, the chances are only about one in four, or 25 percent, that they have a gun in their home. But the chances are more than twice that, almost 60 percent, if they are Republicans.Whether someone owns a gun is a more powerful predictor of a person’s political party than her gender, whether she identifies as gay or lesbian, whether she is Hispanic, whether she lives in the South or a number of other demographic characteristics.

Now take note of this piece by Alex Seitz-Wald, published in Salon back in July.  (h/t Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing)

Over the past two decades, the NRA has not only been able to stop gun control laws, but even debate on the subject. The Centers for Disease Control funds research into the causes of death in the United States, including firearms — or at least it used to. In 1996, after various studies funded by the agency found that guns can be dangerous, the gun lobby mobilized to punish the agency. First, Republicans tried to eliminate entirely the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the bureau responsible for the research. When that failed, Rep. Jay Dickey, a Republican from Arkansas, successfully pushed through an amendment that stripped $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget (the amount it had spent on gun research in the previous year) and outlawed research on gun control with a provision that reads: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

David Satcher, the then-director of the CDC, wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post in November of 1995 warning that the NRA’s “shotgun assault” on the CDC was dangerous both for public health and for our democracy:

“What ought to be of wider concern, is the second argument advanced by the NRA — that firearms research funded by the CDC is so biased against gun ownership that all such funding ought to cease. Here is a prescription for inaction on a major cause of death and disability. Here is a charge that not only casts doubt on the ability of scientists to conduct research involving controversial issues but also raises basic questions about the ability, fundamental to any democracy, to have honest, searching public discussions of such issues.”

Exactly so.

But hey, maybe the ban didn’t matter.  After all, it’s not “advocating” gun control to do simple epidemiology.  Right?

Dickey’s clause, which remains in effect today, has had a chilling effect on all scientific research into gun safety, as gun rights advocates view “advocacy” as any research that notices that guns are dangerous. Stephen Teret, who co-directs the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told Salon: “They sent a message and the message was heard loud and clear. People [at the CDC], then and now, know that if they start going down that road, their budget is going to be vulnerable. And the way public agencies work, they know how this works and they’re not going to stick their necks out.”

In January, the New York Times reported that the CDC goes so far as to “ask researchers it finances to give it a heads-up anytime they are publishing studies that have anything to do with firearms. The agency, in turn, relays this information to the NRA as a courtesy.”

The anti-science commitment by the GOP is not a mistake.  It’s not a clash of world-views.  It’s not that faith sincerely experienced renders the conclusions of science irrelevant.  Rather, the GOP, at least at the level where power can be wielded, is all about the ability to assert authority regardless of knowledge that contradicts belief.

Ghent_Altarpiece_D_-_Popes_-_detail

We know how this song goes.  Anti-science is an old strand in human experience.  The determination to block independent assessments of reality you see here is the same thing the Church asserted when it confronted Galileo.    When  Galileo said, as he did in his famous letter to the Medici Grand Duchess Christina,  “I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages, but from sense-experiences and necessary demonstrations…” Galileo, in all piety was making the claim that interpreters of the Bible must accomodate whatever it is that science demonstrates to be true about the world.  At the same time, he knew that the church, or elements within it could not risk acknowledging to the idea of autonomous expertise.*  Hence, Galileo told Christina, his antagonists

…make a shield of their hypocritical zeal for religion. They go about invoking the Bible, which they would have minister to their deceitful purposes. Contrary to the sense of the Bible and the intention of the holy Fathers, if I am not mistaken, they would extend such authorities until even in purely physical matters—where faith is not involved—they would have us altogether abandon reason and the evidence of our senses in favor of some biblical passage, though under the surface meaning of its words this passage may contain a different sense

As it was, so it is.

The Republican Party, taken over by extremists over a decades-long campaign (see the history laid out in the Mark Ames piece Anne Laurie linked to yesterday), has a broad resume when it comes to fighting science to avoid the necessity of confronting the basic facts of real life.  And it is this, to me, that makes the GOP not just wrong about almost everything, but unacceptably dangerous, a political force to be destroyed.

To return to the latest confrontation between the reality of gun violence, and the determination of the GOP not to know what it is inconvenient to understand:  legally enforced ignorance of the implications of the effectively unregulated presence of powerful weaponry throughout the country contributes to events like the Newtown massacre.

To anticipate an objection:  just as you can never tie a specific cigarette to a particular cancer, I cannot say that had we spent more effort really trying to analyze what happens when guns and the accessories that make them yet more deadly are so easily available we would have been able to stop that particular tragedy.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t discover epidemiological truths:  we know that smoking leads directly to an excess burden of cancer deaths among smokers.  You work out the rest…

The only hopeful thing I see is that the latest horrific events have forced more and more people to notice that the gun lobby and the worst wings of the worst political party I’ve ever seen in a half-century of living in America are one and the same.  Right now it’s important to press the case as hard as we can:  gun nuts aren’t defending freedom and long-established constitutional principles.  They’re preserving the profits of gun makers and serving the political ends of the party of the oligarchs.  We have a moment of advvantage in the fight against such forces.  If you take Silver’s argument seriously, the same demographics that propelled Obama to his second term put the gun lobby at risk.

But in the meantime, the suppression of knowledge about the actual human cost of gun ownership — to gun owners as well as the rest of us — is costing lives.  Those Republicans who block the pursuit of knowledge about what our weapons are doing to our country are complicit in the loss of lives by gun violence in the context of our artificially maintained ignorance.

*Which Galileo also knew many of them did not possess, writing, “Possibly because they are disturbed by the known truth of other propositions of mine which differ from those commonly held, and therefore mistrusting their defense so long as they confine themselves to the field of philosophy, these men have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible. These they apply, with little judgment, to the refutation of arguments that they do not understand and have not even listened to.”

Image: Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, detail of Popes from the lower central panel, completed 1432.

37 replies
  1. 1
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    If we did create a national database of the mentally ill, of what good would it be if any weapons sales were allowed that did not include a check of that database? To include any and all private weapons transactions of any kind, and an enforcement mechanism to go with it?

    LaPierre has not thought this shit through. He and his lobbying arm for the weapons industry don’t want to place restrictions on sales.

    So, the logical conclusion is that after the fact of another elementary school massacre, someone other than the party that provided the shooter with the weapons must be held responsible for the shooter coming into possession of the weapon used.

    Because we can’t hold any weapon merchant or manufacturer responsible for enabling someone in the mental illness database to act out their violent tendencies, if any, on a bunch of first graders.

    Also note, in reference to Tom’s very good post, that any review of methods and results that conflict with GOP dogma would be prohibited because it could, potentially, get in the way of weapons sales.

  2. 2
    Maude says:

    Too many people are talking about how to solve gun violence. The Republicans and the NRA are on their way out. Going down the drain.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Ken Burd says:

    And, then, the NRA doubles down on stupid.

  5. 5
    Tom Levenson says:

    @GregB: Posting that linky was a hostile act.

    I need mental floss.

  6. 6
    Maude says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    For the NRA, it’s the weapons, stupid.

  7. 7
    Cermet says:

    For the NRA, it’s the “selling of” weapons, stupid.

  8. 8
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    Sorta waiting for a non gun control thread, preferably on Kerry as the next SoS and the odds of holding onto his senate seat.

  9. 9
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Maude:

    I’m thinking the NRA’s plan is to put the blame on some mental health professional for the actions of a mentally ill shooter. It was that professional’s fault that the guy (they are invariably male) got his hands on a weapon, NOT the party who provided it. The mental health professional is supposed to be monitoring the individual on a 24/7/365 basis. No one else can be held responsible, PARTICULARLY not some innocent weapon providing third party.

    As far as the NRA and their paymasters are concerned, problem solved!

  10. 10
    Petorado says:

    “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

    Suppressing thought: it’s obvious you’re doing the right and moral thing then when you have to prevent people from seeing the facts that prove otherwise and forcibly repress anyone who knows more than you.

  11. 11
    Maude says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    The mentally ill should not be scapegoated, ever. This is an attempt to keep the gun manufacturers from being on the hook.
    I am so angry at this.
    All children have the right to be safe.
    Killers are the ones who can get their hands on these weapons. That’s what should be solved. Can’t cure killers, but we can make it harder for them to kill.

  12. 12
    Maude says:

    @Cermet:
    That’s even better.

  13. 13
    Dork says:

    OT:

    Republican D-bag just announced he cannot support Repub Slightly Less D-bag Chuck Hagel for SoD.

    So they’ve unmasked all pretense and the official line is: We will deny anything and anyone that Obama supports. Even fellow Republicans.

    I dont see any bills passed in the next 2 years.

  14. 14
    El Cid says:

    The CDC is biased against guns because they always begin by assuming that being killed is a bad thing, i.e., by gunfire, whereas Real Americans know that killing with bullets is an important aspect of human health.

  15. 15
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    Away with your pesky “science”, we have no time for this foolishness when Moloch demands dollar tribute and blood sacrifices. The Hungry God is hungry and must be fed.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Maude:

    EVERYTHING the NRA does is about placing responsibility for weapons violence anywhere, ANYWHERE but on gun merchants and manufacturers.

    It must be the mentally ill on the loose, or Rockstar Games, or Quentin Tarantino, or Hannah Montana, or SOMEONE or SOMETHING other than Freedom Group.

  17. 17
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @El Cid:

    Real Americans know that killing with bullets is an important aspect of human health.

    The Dead are just getting in touch with their proper and appropriate condition of Burkean modesty. A decomposing society is a polite society.

  18. 18
    MikeJ says:

    I think we should pay attention to the NRA. Let’s not ban any weapons. Let’s just make it illegal to collect money in exchange for a weapon. You can give away all the guns you want, but you can’t sell them. Ammo too, of course.

  19. 19
    El Cid says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: Which is why it’s so rude to tax these calm and quiet post-metabolic Americans via so-called “estate taxes,” given that these individuals who draw upon no government services are denied a voice in our government via the franchise which so far is exclusively granted to the pre-mortality community.

  20. 20
    David Hunt says:

    @Dork:

    I Hagel were a real Republican, he wouldn’t be willing to work for Kenyan Usurper. He’s obviously a traitor!

  21. 21
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    To paraphrase what I said last thread:

    Ask a heroin addict what the problem is, and by some strange coincidence, the answer will never be “heroin”.

  22. 22

    Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,
    then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my
    lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
    fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
    account?–Yet who would have thought the [innocent]
    to have had so much blood in [them].

  23. 23
  24. 24
    GregB says:

    So LaPierre wants to turn our schools into FEMA concentration camps surrounded by government paid jack booted armed thugs?

  25. 25
  26. 26
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    So LaPierre wants to turn our schools into FEMA concentration camps surrounded by government paid jack booted armed thugs?

    @GregB: Who said anything about paid? Listen to that again (actually, don’t, it’s not good for you) but he calls for volunteers.

    I hear George Zimmerman needs a job.

    That shit ain’t gonna fly, Wayne. A little guy named “Liability” is going to fuck any district stupid enough to try that with a blowtorch and chainsaw the first time something goes to shit.

  27. 27
    FormerSwingVoter says:

    As far as the mentally ill thing goes, can’t we just require a mental health evaluation for gun licenses? Wouldn’t that help quite a bit?

  28. 28
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    I’m thinking the NRA’s plan is to put the blame on some mental health professional for the actions of a mentally ill shooter. It was that professional’s fault that the guy (they are invariably male) got his hands on a weapon, NOT the party who provided it. The mental health professional is supposed to be monitoring the individual on a 24/7/365 basis.

    The mental health professional should also be packing heat while monitoring the individual. But that goes without saying, right?

  29. 29
    Dork says:

    A little guy named “Liability” is going to fuck any district stupid enough to try that with a blowtorch and chainsaw the first time something goes to shit.

    But if it goes to shit, they can always just add more guns and Patriot missles and the whole mess will be fixed.

    Not to mention, it is a guarentee that a bill will be passed giving these “volunteers” immunity from prosecution and lawsuits should anything go to shit.

  30. 30
    Svensker says:

    @Dork:

    Republican D-bag just announced he cannot support Repub Slightly Less D-bag Chuck Hagel for SoD.
    So they’ve unmasked all pretense and the official line is: We will deny anything and anyone that Obama supports. Even fellow Republicans.

    No, the problem is Hagel is not a war monger and doesn’t think Israel or the US should bomb Iran, which makes him an “anti-semite”. This is what they’re going with. I don’t think Obama has the guts to stand up to this lobby.

  31. 31
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Svensker:

    We must await the synthesis of this Hagelian dialetic.

  32. 32

    @Svensker:
    I said earlier this week why Hagel would be a good choice for SecDef. Finding out who opposes him (basically the same crew of neo-cons who gave us the Iraq War) just raises my opinion.

    I’m not sure if Obama has a choice but to go to bat for Hagel. I guess we’ll have to see what Sen Reid comes up with for filibuster reform.

    It’d be so sweet to see Hagel get the job, over McCain’s screaming objections.

  33. 33
    kabiddle says:

    Thanks for this post Tom. I’m thrilled to see Nate Silver take his prodigious talents into the area of social demographics. He is to be commended for introducing a timely profile of “Who” with just a little bit of “Why” into his presentation. A beginning bit of methodology.

    I’m not in much of a religious of destructo mood right now, but your contribution highlights the fact that guns for many have become a kind of religion — a place to go when trust in your fellow man has become a state of fear or a need for perpetual dominance.

  34. 34
    mainmati says:

    “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

    The GOP is an authoritarian party. Authoritarians dislike the transparency and accountability. Their alliance with the NRA stems in part from a desire to have available to them roving bands of armed militias to make sure the populace remains terrified and tamed.

    The GOP is the principal threat to American democracy at this point.

  35. 35
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    Rather, the GOP, at least at the level where power can be wielded, is all about the ability to assert authority regardless of knowledge that contradicts belief.

    It’s all about the money. The need to assert authority and wield power is driven by that.

  36. 36
    Linnaeus says:

    On the whole, conservatives have never cared much for social science research.

  37. 37
    Mike G says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    It was that professional’s fault that the guy (they are invariably male) got his hands on a weapon, NOT the party who provided it.

    The NRA and its wingnut whore politicians have pushed for laws actually making it illegal for medical professionals to ask patients if they own guns.

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