Alex Koppelman asks, in the New Yorker, “Can Biden Stop the Shooting?“:
… A final decision may not have been made, but the broad strokes of what President Obama would do with only the powers of his office, and without congressional approval, have been made fairly clear, both in Biden’s own statements and in the positions taken by some of the major gun-control advocacy groups that took part in the meetings.
One of the things that Obama is likely to do on his own is to work to shore up the database that is used to conduct background checks on prospective gun buyers. The law already requires federal agencies to submit records that contain information about people who are, for various reasons, prohibited from owning firearms, but at least some of those agencies haven’t been complying fully. In a letter to Obama sent shortly after Newtown, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the organization co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, called on Obama to “issue an executive order requiring all federal agency heads to certify twice annually, in writing, to the U.S. Attorney General that their agency has submitted all relevant records to NICS.” (There are other steps Obama could take in this area as well, some of which Biden discussed in his public remarks on Thursday.)…
Failure now would be more than a short-term setback for gun control; it would also mean wasting the best opportunity its supporters have to keep from losing the debate altogether. In recent years, Republicans have worked to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the federal government to do research on guns and violent crime, or to fund any such research. Without that kind of scientific data to bolster their arguments, advocates for new restrictions on guns are at a significant disadvantage. On Thursday, Biden made it clear that he recognizes this, drawing a lengthy analogy to the auto industry’s fight against similar research on car-safety data, and the improvements like collapsible steering wheels and air bags that were only made after the government won the fight over that data. The Administration can fix parts of this problem on its own, but others require congressional action, and that’s a fight that will be hard for Democrats to win. But if Obama and Biden want to do more than just make small changes, if they want to make a real dent, they’ll have to.
Joanna Weiss, at the Boston Globe, talks to some doctors who are arguing the public health angle:
… Back in the 1950s, he said, when people fretted about car-crash deaths, car manufacturers fell back on the fault argument: Cars don’t kill people; bad drivers do, by speeding or driving drunk or blowing through stop signs.
So doctors tried a different tactic: assuming that accidents were going to happen and focusing instead on the injuries they caused. It turned out that people were being slammed into non-collapsible steering wheels, lacerated by non-shatterproof windshields, crushed when they ran into trees and lampposts on the sides of roads.
Public safety programs — many of them government-imposed — changed the environment in which bad drivers drove. Some required change from car manufacturers: collapsible steering wheels, safety glass on windshields. Some required change from drivers themselves: wearing seat belts, naming designated drivers. There was no single solution. But since 1950, car deaths per mile driven have fallen by 90 percent.
In a commentary in last week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, Ludwig, Hemenway, and Mozaffarian list a number of public health analogies that could easily apply to guns. Just as childproof safety caps have helped reduce the number of kids poisoned by medicines, a new generation of smart gun safety locks — perhaps triggered by fingerprints — could keep guns from discharging in the wrong hands. Just as speed limits have lessened the impact of accidents, reduced-capacity magazines could limit the effects of a shooting spree. Just as taxing tobacco has raised money for smoking cessation, taxing guns could provide a funding stream for gun safety programs….
Better that we keep those old public health victories in mind — remember that they came with a measure of personal sacrifice, but also that we accepted the burden and moved on. People didn’t much like wearing seat belts, at the start. But once we had to wear seat belts, it’s turned out to be fine. Better than fine. Because now, there are plenty more of us alive.