Facts, not emotion, must guide public policy

Posted 3/17/21

In today's hyper-politicized, ultra-combative and increasingly divided United States of America, a core issue contributing to all three of those worsening conditions seems to be a fundamental disconnect between those who stand on either side of two

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Facts, not emotion, must guide public policy


In today’s hyper-politicized, ultra-combative and increasingly divided United States of America, a core issue contributing to all three of those worsening conditions seems to be a fundamental disconnect between those who stand on either side of two guiding sets of principles.

On one side, we have those who live their lives largely guided by emotional ideology. On the other side are those who live their lives guided by a strict adherence to objective, observable facts. It goes without saying that this is a wholly inadequate generalization of a complex and diverse country, but we have to start somewhere to understand how our society got this way.

The argument over pending firearms legislation aimed at restricting specific aspects of gun ownership in Rhode Island – specifically the right to purchase vaguely-dubbed “assault weapons” and the right to own high-capacity magazines – poses an especially pertinent backdrop to examine our hypothesis and these two disparate sides at work.

On one side of the issue, you have legislators and members of the public who have seen observable evidence of the widespread horror that can be wrought on the innocent by unchecked possession and illicit use of firearms, specifically brought on by weapons that a militia member in 1776 could never have dreamed of. They see this as an obvious problem in need of a decisive solution.

On the other side of the issue are the proponents of the Second Amendment – a position that has remained largely unchanged for decades. This side sees all efforts to further curtail gun ownership as a direct threat to democracy and an infringement on their rights as American citizens. They believe that gun restriction actions of today will, in their view, inevitably lead to total confiscation of all guns and pave the way for a tyrannical government.

In this case, both sides have an unavoidable emotional involvement regarding the issue at hand. Pro-gun advocates fear for the loss of the ability to defend themselves. Those looking to prevent those who would cause harm from easily accessing firearms fear more killing of innocent men, women and children. Thankfully, there has been extensive analytical research conducted on the efficacy of restrictive gun policies in America.

But what may surprise you, especially if you are in favor of the proposed legislation banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, is that these specific measures have not actually demonstrated a significant decrease in violent homicide anywhere they have been implemented.

But before the Second Amendment advocates cheer too loudly, they should recognize that data does show, without a shadow of a doubt, that other gun restrictions such as universal background checks, waiting periods on purchases and preventing those with a history of domestic abuse or mental illness from acquiring firearms has had a tremendously positive effect in preventing violent deaths. In fact, the 13 states that have implemented universal background checks have an average of 58 percent fewer firearms homicides than those without – according to a Boston University study that looked at state police and FBI data from 2017.

The whole point of this is to show that, whether you’re an advocate for creating more restrictive gun laws or you think any gun law is a step towards an Orwellian state, factual data and emotions must be separated in order to advance meaningful public policy.

As the data currently shows, restricting who can get a firearm rather than what firearm they can get is the crucial issue. Requiring a background check to find out if someone has a violent history or a mental illness that may make them dangerous with a weapon before they are able to purchase one is a tremendously effective policy. But data has not shown – to this point – that making AR-15s illegal will do much of anything regarding violent gun crime.

These two facts will likely cause some cognitive dissonance to those on both sides of the issue. They demonstrate that some gun legislation should be enacted based on good, scientific data – while other gun legislation may be the result of more emotionally based reasoning than solid, objective facts.

Having said all that, we can’t ignore the repugnant tendency for those on the pro-guns side of this issue to berate, demean and even outwardly threaten individuals who stand on the other side – as most recently seen with emails sent to Rep. Justine Caldwell, a leading sponsor for the aforementioned legislation going through the Rhode Island House.

Nothing will undermine efforts of those who wish to see less restriction on their Second Amendment rights quite as quickly or effectively as a pro-gun advocate emailing a direct threat of violence via firearms to a legislator who – whether they’re advancing the right policy or not to do so – is only trying to help prevent tragedies like we’ve seen all too often in recent memory.

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Allan Bucklin

I think you make a very good point that we need to look at the facts and the statistics I read that there less crime in those states with sensible gun laws. I can understand the emotion of the anti-gun group when we hear of shootings and death of young people but these shootings, I don't believe, are done by law abiding citizens but rather done by the criminal element in our society. All our gun laws do not stop the criminal element and our gun laws don't stop the flow of guns to the criminal element. Our gun laws affect the law abiding citizen so the pro-gun group feel that they are being punished by many of these restrictive gun laws. We need sensible gun laws and less restrictive gun laws and not hold the pro-gun group responsible for the criminal element crimes.

Friday, March 19