Gun owners are sensitive about studies. That’s a shame.

This post was written in response to some reactions to the request for information about concealed-weapons permit holders by the Bangor Daily News. It does not reflect the Bangor Daily News’s decision to rescind those requests.

Isn’t it a good idea to know something about gun use and ownership when considering policy on guns?

You’d think so.

After all, good public policy about education, health care, and many other topics all benefit from good data and well-done studies.

Yet that’s not what what some want.

According to a research note in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there has been an all-out effort to squelch rigorous studies of guns from a public health perspective. Drs. Kellermann and Rivara write:

The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997. But in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year. Funding was restored in joint conference committee, but the money was earmarked for traumatic brain injury. The effect was sharply reduced support for firearm injury research.

There are many questions that could be asked such as these, posed by one newspaper, “Are communities where more people carry guns safer or less safe? Does the availability of high-capacity magazines increase deaths? Do more rigorous background checks make a difference?” The paper reports:

The reality is that even these and other basic questions cannot be fully answered, because not enough research has been done. And there is a reason for that. Scientists in the field and former officials with the government agency that used to finance the great bulk of this research say the influence of the National Rife Association has all but choked off money for such work.

“We’ve been stopped from answering the basic questions,” said Mark Rosenberg, former director of the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was for about a decade the leading source of financing for firearms research.

But it’s not just the NRA that’s sensitive about studies.

One element of public discussions about guns is that they quickly get emotional.

To be sure, there’s the argumentation about what the founders believed. There are also empirical claims about gun ownership and crime. But another dominant element is emotion.

Anger. Dismay. Deep unhappiness. Fear.

Those are now on display in response to requests by the Bangor Daily News for information about people with concealed-weapon permit holders.

These come from Republican state legislators, the governor, and the state GOP, but they also come from many private individuals.

Despite the editor clearly stating that, “no identifying information about permit holders will be published,” some are in an uproar.

Given that government-funded research has been squelched, more studies and information is needed.

As long as the Bangor Daily News keeps its promise about not revealing information about individuals — and there’s no reason to think they won’t — analyzing the information is an endeavor that serves the public interest.

This project can add to our knowledge about an important matter of public concern.

And that is exactly why newspapers and all media exist and are protected from government interference under the First Amendment.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote, good government and liberty depend on the people receiving “full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people.”

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.