In the wake of the Navy Yard Shootings, what the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives) MUST DO NOW + Sign This Petition/ By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
As our nation struggles with the notions of government shutdowns, debt-ceilings, gridlock and state budget crises, this essay considers WHAT WE AMERICANS MUST DO TO VOICE OUR PRESSING CONCERNS ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE to our elected and appointed officials.
On the evening of July 31, the United States Senate confirmed B.Todd Jones was to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after a nearly seven year vacancy in the position. Upon Jones confirmation, President Obama released a statement affirming: “Todd Jones is a tough and tested law-enforcement professional with decades of experience, and his confirmation to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is both welcome and long overdue.”
Dan Brady, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence echoed the President’s remarks stating “Today we can finally say the agency responsible for enforcing our gun laws will have a permanent director with the leadership skills to help in the fight to prevent gun violence.”
For an organization that had been without a permanent leader since 2006, the announcement of the Jones confirmation was encouraging and urgent given the deplorable state of data collection in gun-involved homicides and suicides in America.
Oddly, in the midst of the Navy Yard Shootings, the ATF---was not consulted or involved in the initial hours of the investigations. Yet, while the ATF laments being ignored in the wake of last week’s Washington DC shootings, THERE ARE STEPS THAT ATF CAN TAKE IMMEDIATELY to address the gun violence that plagues American communities on a daily basis.
The present reporting system is marked by out-of-date statistics with no central clearing house that collects, analyzes and reports on such matters annually. Thus, researchers are left to rely on estimates, projections from years past and local newspaper clippings in the absence of current, organized and easily accessible information.
Consequently, the fact that the most current homicide data is most often drawn from 2009-2010 data (but often even older statistics) is troubling because it provides an inaccurate picture of current dynamics on the ground in far too many communities.
According to the Center For Disease Control’s report on Firearm Homicides and Suicides in Major Metropolitan Areas — United States, 2006–2007 and 2009–2010, this is the most recent data available to identify deaths attributed to firearm homicides and firearm suicides among U.S. residents.
According to The Children’s Defense Fund’s publication, Protect Children, Not Guns 2013, their most recent fatal and nonfatal gun injury data is from 2010 available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for children and teens ages 0-19.
Similarly, the Violence Policy Center’s Publications on Gun Violence, which uses data from the Center For Disease Control & Prevention (2000-2008), they report that the number of Americans killed by guns has remained fairly constant in the nine years for which complete data is available in the 21st century.
Finally, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has the most recent findings based on the fact that The Brady Campaign averaged the most recent data from death certificates (2008-2010) and estimates of emergency room admissions (2009-2011) available via CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. However, even they admit “the estimate may be unstable.”
Thus, the lack of current data masks a broader problem in the culture: without current data, neither gun rights advocates or gun control advocates can make accurate arguments about gun violence in America with stale data sets. Thus---particularly since the Newtown tragedy---we have spent better than half a year railing against each other about gun rights vs. gun control in American life based on outdated estimates.
Consequently, it is vitally important that organizations, activists and citizens concerned about gun violence in America pressure the ATF for accurate accounting and reporting of the gun-involved incidents, homicides and suicides occurring annually---if not bi-annually or quarterly--- in our nation.
In my work as the Outreach Coordinator for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV) for Central Illinois, I travel around the central region of Illinois participating in panel discussions, communicating with media outlets and giving anti-gun violence presentations on college and university campuses as well as to civic, community and faith-based organizations.
Hence, my presentations often draw on data from the aforementioned national organizations as well as my own extremely time-consuming, painstaking and often-incomplete research tracking incidents in local papers. Thus, I am acutely aware of the negative impacts of stale data on the communities we serve.
When I spoke with the ATF Division of Firearms asking where I could find state-specific information on incident of gun violence in each state, their representative stated “Sorry. We don’t have that information. We probably should be the ones to collect such data, but we don’t.”
Given the Manning and Snowden revelations, we know that the American government is quite capable of capturing and compiling thousands of documents and statistics it deems important for national security.
Thus, I would further argue that in the interest of national security as it related to gun violence, we must demand accurate research, accounting and reporting of gun-involved incidents (crimes, homicides and suicides) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives and insist that it be an annual reporting priority moving forward.
If we are to have honest and accurate dialogues about the impacts of gun violence on American life---particularly now that the Concealed Carry laws have been implemented in all 50 states---we must demand timely accounting of incidents of gun violence in American communities.
American lives and gun violence prevention depend on this data.
Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD, is the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV) Outreach Coordinator for Central Illinois. She is also the author of TANGLED, an award-winning play that examines gun violence in Chicago and the convening playwright of global GunPlay(s) Competition 2013-2014, a competition focused on plays that examine gun violence in American life. For more information: http://www.samaritanroadproductions.com/contact-nicole-anderson-cobb-phd-at-samaritan-road-productions.html