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AAAS Commends Obama’s Actions to Improve Gun Safety

The AAAS commended President Barack Obama for his executive actions to reduce gun violence and improve public safety, in part by promoting the use and acquisition of new technology to make guns safer and by proposing a new $500 million investment to improve care for those with mental health issues.

“We support sensible steps to help reduce gun violence, which is a major public health issue in this country,” said Rush D. Holt, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “There is a role for researchers in developing technology for safer guns that can be fired only by authorized users.”  

“Thinking about the problem of gun violence as a public health issue, and technology as part of the solution will help us get beyond the ideological debate,” Holt added. “We hope that we can shift the focus to research and evidence in order to solve the very real problems.”

Tens of thousands of people are injured or killed each year by firearms − in many cases by guns that were sold legally but then stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally, the White House noted in a statement on Obama’s actions. The president directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology. Substantial work already has been done on fingerprint scanners, radio-frequency identification, and other methods to improve gun safety and trace lost or stolen weapons.

It also is important to expand mental health and substance abuse services for millions of Americans, Holt said. The White House noted in its statement that “less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need.”

Incidents of gun violence continue to highlight the urgent need for more comprehensive mental health care, Holt said, while noting − as the White House did  – that individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. The White House statement added: “We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment – and make sure these individuals and their families know they are not alone.”

The proposed $500 million investment for mental health “would increase access to mental health services to protect the health of children and communities, prevent suicide, and promote mental health as a top priority,” the White House statement said. The proposal would require approval by Congress.

Holt also applauded Obama’s directive that U.S. Attorney’s offices around the country engage in renewed efforts to help combat domestic violence, which can often involve the misuse of guns.

AAAS continues to call for more research to better understand the root causes and epidemiology of gun violence. It has urged Congress to free up federal funding of research on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency’s funding of such research, including data collection, has been essentially frozen since 1996 due to restrictive language inserted in congressional spending bills.

In January 2013, former AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner sent letters to Obama and two congressional representatives commending their efforts to end the long-standing federal funding freeze on gun violence research. “I write to applaud you for supporting research as part of your Administration’s initiatives on reducing gun violence,” Leshner wrote. He agreed, as Obama noted in a recent executive action, that “critical public health research” is needed to better understand and potentially help reduce gun violence. Such studies also should include social, behavioral, and economic sciences, Leshner said.