EDITORIAL: What can we do?

A FEW HUNDRED PEOPLE gathered in Hudson Monday evening for a vigil and march. They acknowledged in public their grief for lives lost. They affirmed that no gunman, no matter what motivated him, could rob the victims of their humanity, regardless of whether those victims were school children, co-workers or members of the LGBTQ community. For those who took part or took notice, Monday’s observance made Orlando feel closer.

So what? Why should an act of terror in Florida change anything when the ones that preceded it differed only by venue and body count? It’s not a local issue, anyway. Except that it is. Drive around this county and count the lawn signs that demand the repeal of the SAFE Act, the gun control law adopted in 2013. It’s considered one of the toughest laws of its kind in the country and it is not popular in rural areas, though a majority of New Yorkers support it and the courts have let it stand.

A gun control advocacy group found that New York ranked third lowest in the nation in gun violence deaths during 2015. Gun rights advocates dismiss that kind of ranking as propaganda for further restrictions on law abiding gun owners. By contrast, some of us feel the SAFE Act does make us safer. But what if we’re wrong? What if New York is not a safer state because of our gun control laws and instead we’re just lucky?

Research could address those questions. Unfortunately, we don’t have much reliable data or analysis by trusted sources. We could ask the gun manufacturers for help, but they have a bias that wouldn’t surprise anyone. And based on the example of the pharmaceutical industry’s drug studies, where companies routinely hide unfavorable results, it’s hard to imagine why the firearms industry would release information that puts its products in a bad light.

By the same standard, even if you believe in more firearms regulation, you’d have to agree that any study funded by a group advocating firearms restrictions won’t carry any weight with gun rights advocates.

We could just accept this drought of research into deaths and injuries caused by bullets or insist that research won’t help. But shouldn’t we know more about why over 300,000 people died as the result of gunfire in this country over the last decade. Maybe we could reduce that number in the decade ahead.

You’d think the federal government could give us facts about whether gun laws save lives. But federally funded scientific research on that topic ended 20 years ago when gun rights activists, including the National Rifle Association, persuaded Congress to end federal support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for research into the causes and effects of gun violence. President Obama ordered the government to resume the research after the horror at Sandy Hook, but as of last year none had started.

Even if the scientific inquiries had resumed, we can’t assume it could have helped thwart the most recent attacks. But what other options do we have? Are we condemned to accept this void of knowledge while the carnage continues? Makes you wonder about the leaders of the gun rights movement. Why are they so afraid of knowing more about how semi-automatic firearms affect the lives of their fellow citizens?

Research alone won’t end gun violence, nor will new laws alone do that job. But research can provide common ground for discussion. In the meantime the deaths will continue to mount and those not resigned to the toll have no choice but to call for action in the most public ways possible.

There’s an opportunity to do that coming up this weekend at the Out Hudson parade, 2 p.m. Saturday, June 18 starting at 7th Street and marching down Warren Street in Hudson. It’s part of an annual Pride Month celebration, and this year it takes on added significance a week after the customers of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando were targeted for who they were by a man with two semi-automatic firearms. The people who died were targeted as a group. What group is next?

Maybe you didn’t plan to go; maybe now you should. Citizens need many different types of knowledge about firearms. This event reminds us of the most important fact of all: more people support rational gun policies than don’t. But those who want to curb the violence had better reach out for this common goal and Out Hudson’s a good place to start.

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