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The next, difficult step on gun violence

After a week of momentum, powerful resistance awaits

A shooting victim, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, launches a national organization to offset the voice and power of the NRA – and 400,000 people promptly sign up. A Democratic governor, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, proposes bold gun control for his state – with little protest from Republicans.

And finally, Vice President Joe Biden leads a series of high-profile discussions on gun violence – and even gun retailers and gun advocates feel compelled to attend.

It was, for Americans who believe the country needs to do better on guns and gun violence, a very good week.

But a less-heralded news item this week offered a reminder of the difficulties that remain, no matter the momentum some feel today. On Thursday, more than 100 academics across the country signed a letter calling for the lifting of federal restrictions on research into firearms violence and its causes. That’s right, Americans: There are legislative restrictions on finding out the hows and whys of gun deaths in your country. You can guess who’s behind them.

In the mid-1990s, according to a report from the New York Times, the National Rifle Association became uneasy with researchers who wanted to dig into gun-related deaths. Specifically, the organization targeted the Centers for Disease Control, a major funder of firearms research. Thanks to NRA-friendly lawmakers, language was placed into an appropriations bill that banned CDC from using funds for anything that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

Predictably, the CDC backed off from funding firearms research, which has since shrunk considerably. The CDC language still stands today, the Times reports.

It’s certainly not breaking news that the NRA is powerful. But next week, the vice president will make recommendations on how to reduce gun violence, and no matter what those recommendations are, the NRA will scoff. Likely it will be with the same apocalyptic tone about the Second Amendment that followed the NRA’s meeting with Biden this week.

What can the White House do? It could, and likely will, assure Americans that no one is coming after all their guns. It should, and perhaps will, remind them that the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to any weapon they want. President Obama already has vowed an attempt to ban the kind of semi-automatic weapons used in Newtown and Aurora – and we approve.

But instead of getting cornered into a fight with the NRA over banning guns – and losing the whole gun control battle over it – the White House should emphasize all of the other ways it can effectively approach gun violence. That includes universal background checks for all gun sales, including online and at gun shows, and limits on high-capacity magazines. It should also include funding that would improve the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, and a message that encourages the video game and entertainment industry to examine the violence that bleeds from their products.

Polls show that each of these possible measures has broad and growing public support. That’s important. As firearms researchers reminded us this week, the NRA wields tremendous power over Congress. The best way to confront that power is to isolate it with a well-rounded strategy that attacks gun violence, not just guns. A thorough, reasonable approach might help enough Americans – and the lawmakers they elect – see just how unreasonable the NRA is.

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