Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Editorials

Research is needed to curb mass killings

Last week, it was a newsroom in Annapolis, Md. About a month ago, it was Santa Fe High School in Texas. And in February, it was a high school in Parkland, Fla. Regardless of our politics, there couldn’t be any stronger warning sign that something is going wrong in our country than the prevalence of mass shootings.

So we were more than a little encouraged recently when folks from the Texas-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation stopped by our offices to talk about an initiative they’ve launched to do something about this problem.

There are a lot of people who call for something to be done, but what stands out about the Arnold Foundation’s work is that it attempts to bridge the political divide that stymies discussion. The foundation focuses on taking the first crucial step of gathering information before offering policy prescriptions.

Here is what the Arnold Foundation is doing: Over the next five years, it has pledged to spend $20 million on research into gun violence, and efforts to encourage others to engage in such research. In the short run, the foundation hopes to raise an additional $30 million in private funds. And the foundation is also collaborating with the Rand Corp. to collect and analyze empirical evidence needed to ascertain what could make a meaningful difference.

In the long run, the foundation’s goal is more ambitious. It hopes to spark a massive — private and government —research effort. The ultimate aim, of course, is to draw the federal government into the research effort. That would provide substantial dollars as well as pull in talented researchers from across the country.

If this sounds like so many previous efforts, it’s not. In this case, the Arnold Foundation is reaching out to organizations that support gun rights — including the National Rifle Association —and is starting from the premise that the Second Amendment protects gun ownership in America. Those working on this initiative hope that the Heller decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual right to own guns, can be used to change the national narrative so gun enthusiasts can feel empowered to work with others to find new ways to reduce gun violence.

Even though the intention of this initiative is to find ideas that can reduce violence — not simply offer a litany of the same old gun-control proposals — we recognize that this will be a heavy lift. There is substantial opposition to using federal dollars for such research out of fear that it would be used to advocate for a one-sided political agenda.

There may be no way to allay such fears, other than to conduct research that demonstrates there are many ways to save lives without violating individual rights. And to that end, we’re encouraged to see the Arnold Foundation’s efforts and look forward to seeing the fruits of this initiative.

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