January 15, 2013

Newtown prompts Crime Lab to get political

The University of Chicago Crime Lab issued a letter on gun violence to the commission, appointed by President Obama, created in response to the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, recommending that the government increase funding and remove constraints on gun policy research.

The letter, initiated by Professors Jens Ludwig and Harold Pollack, directors of the Crime Lab, was signed by over 100 academics, including medical, legal, and economic scholars from a host of major universities across the country.

The authors stressed that political posturing from the gun lobby has curtailed the ability of agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to adequately research gun violence and track the distribution and sale of weapons in the United States.

“Removal of constraints on research would send an important message to both federal officials and the research community regarding their independence from political and ideological interference in the research process,” they wrote.

The letter also recommended that the government augment federal funding for research related to gun policy. Currently, private donors bear the main costs for most of the research, but the authors believe this “is hardly a reliable, sustainable, or responsible means for our nation to tackle one of the most pressing public health problems we currently face.”

Much of the debate surrounding gun violence since the wake of the Newtown shooting has centered on topics such as background checks, access to high-capacity magazine clips, and the possibility of an assault weapons ban.

However, at a White House press conference Monday, Obama shifted the conversation in step with the Crime Lab’s recommendations, indicating that gun policy research is a politically feasible step in addressing gun violence.

“Where you get a step that has the opportunity to reduce the possibility of gun violence, then I want to go ahead and take it.... how we are gathering data, for example, on guns that fall into the hands of criminals and how we track that more effectively,” he told White House reporters.Obama alluded to the possibility of an executive order to curb the research restraints, saying that “there may be some steps that we can take administratively, as opposed to through legislation.”

After the Newtown shooting on December 14, Obama asked Vice President Joe Biden to head the commission to investigate ways to curb gun violence and possible avenues of legislation. Biden subsequently met with myriad of representatives from gun control advocates to executives of the National Rifle Association, as well as Cabinet members and law enforcement officials, to develop a bipartisan series of recommendations.

On Monday, Obama noted that he is currently reviewing the commission’s recommendations and hopes to announce more concrete plans later this week, which could include addressing the Crime Lab’s suggestions.

“[The commission has] presented me now with a list of sensible common-sense steps that can be taken,” he said. “I expect to have a fuller presentation later in the week.”