June 22, 2014 in Column, Opinion

Smart Bombs: Gun data stuck on ‘safety’

By The Spokesman-Review

Politicians’ uneasy relationship with data brings to mind the deliberate ignorance of Sgt. Schultz from “Hogan’s Heroes.”

“I see nothing! I hear nothing! I know NOTHING!”

A classic example occurred in 2005, when then-Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, killed the funding for the Fish Passage Center, a small federal agency that toted up the number of endangered fish in the Columbia River. A federal judge cited the center’s data in calling for the government to boost efforts to save salmon, including spilling more water over the dams.

This directive riled the senator who had once been named “legislator of the year” by the National Hydropower Association. So he killed the messengers. Two years later, a federal appeals court ruling resurrected them. As the director of the fish-counting center told the Washington Post at the time, “We are biologists and computer scientists, and what we do is just math. Math can’t hurt you.”

Ah, but math is truth, and the truth can hurt. For instance, it could impact gun sales.

According to Pro Publica, “One source of [government] data on shooting victims suggests that gun-related violence has been declining for years, while another government estimate actually shows an increase in the number of people who have been shot. Each estimate is based on limited, incomplete data. Not even the FBI tracks the total number of nonfatal gunshot wounds.”

So let’s find out, and resolve other questions, such as: Are you safer with a gun? Pick up any edition of The American Rifleman, published by the National Rifle Association, and you’ll see self-defense anecdotes that suggest you are. So let’s study this as if it were a public health issue.

At one point that sounded like a swell idea to Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., who shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre said, “Put guns on the table, also put video games on the table, put mental health on the table.” He added, “Let’s let the data lead rather than our political opinions.”

He asked Congress to provide $10 million for the Centers for Disease and Prevention. Rather than rely on partisan numbers, the CDC would compile objective information. That was fine with the Obama administration.

But the midterm elections are approaching, and it’s important for some politicians to be as Second Amendment-y as possible. So now Kingston is holstering his idea, saying “the president’s request to fund propaganda for his gun-grabbing initiatives through the CDC will not be included in the FY2015 appropriations bill.”

Sgt. Schultz salutes him.

Careful out there. Congressional candidate Clint Didier is giving away three weapons in a drawing to bolster his Second Amendment credentials. Contestants just have to submit some personal information, so the campaign can stay in touch. How thoughtful.

Didier, who is vying for the seat being vacated by Rep. Doc Hastings, says the winners would have to undergo background checks. Hmm. Isn’t that just a ploy hatched by gun-grabbers?

Defensive. As part of its quadrennial assessment of military strategy, the U.S. Defense Department issued a report in May that called global warming “a threat multiplier.”

“The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities,” the report says.

The U.S. House of Representatives, strong supporters of national defense, responded by giving the Pentagon the tools it needs to respond. Just kidding. The Denial Caucus held sway, passing an amendment that prevents action based on the “ideology” of global warming.

That would be the ideology shared by a quartet of former Environmental Protection Agency directors who served under four Republican presidents. Last week they urged Congress to act.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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