Roberts and guns

House-passed gun laws rate a Senate vote, not to be buried in a commission

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, wrote in her weekly column (Herald, Feb. 20) that her preference would be for the Legislature to drop the four gun-control bills passed by the House on Monday and instead refer the question of how to improve public safety to the bipartisan Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

That is legislator-speak meaning: Let’s kick this can down the road rather than deal with it.

Calling for further study is an old trick for not addressing a difficult issue. It is used at all levels of government and by members of both parties. It is not in itself disreputable, and at times can even be the best response. But it should be seen for what it is – a dodge.

The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is pretty much what its name suggests. Its mission, according to the state’s website, is “to ensure justice, and to ensure protection of the rights of victims” and to “focus on evidence-based recidivism reduction initiatives and the cost-effective expenditure of limited criminal justice funds.”

The commission does employ researchers and no doubt has considerable expertise with statistics and analysis. But its focus is the justice system, not law enforcement or public health.

And it is in that last regard that research into gun violence has been conducted – and now is resuming. For about a decade, the Center for Disease Control did research into gun violence. The best-known of those efforts was a 1993 study supported by grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It found that, “Rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance” and “the link between guns and homicide in the home was present among women as well as men, blacks as well as whites, and younger as well as older people.”

Not surprisingly that study offended the gun lobby, and in 1996, Congress forbade the use of federal money “to advocate or promote gun control.” That deterred the CDC from gun-related research.

Last month, however, President Barack Obama directed the CDC to research the “causes and prevention of gun violence.”

This country’s approximate 30,000 gun-related deaths per year has to qualify as a public-health problem. And studying things that affect public health is what the CDC is all about. There is no reason for Colorado to try to duplicate that effort.

The bills the House passed are a reaction to the horrifying problem of mass shootings. But they are also in recognition of those who were killed – in Colorado and elsewhere. As the president rightly put it, they deserve a vote.