Letter to Eric Cantor. Gun-Related Deaths in US Children: Government Complicity


The following was e-mailed to US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office on the date of this posting.


January 13, 2013

Re:           Gun-Related Deaths in US Children: Government Complicity

Dear Representative Cantor:

I direct this correspondence to you due to your leadership position in the House, your record on ‘gun rights’ legislation that has earned you an A rating by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and because your party this past election cycle received 89% of the political contributions issued by the NRA – this nation’s leading ‘gun rights’ lobbying organization.  You are listed as the 4th leading recipient of such contributions in the House.

I write you not only as a concerned citizen and parent regarding the issue of gun violence in America, but as an individual whose career involved responsibility for assessing and reporting product safety in a federally regulated industry (pharmaceuticals).  I have held senior executive positions, consulted for corporations, and have been before government regulators on numerous occasions.   Unlike most (if not all) consumer products, guns remain unregulated for health and safety.  In the industry where I worked, federal law required us to not only assure the safety of our products, but that we take steps to reduce risk, finding an optimal balance between benefit and risk.

Gun violence in America is a significant public health concern.  Gun-related deaths have been reported to account for more than 25% of the decreased life expectancy in America versus other wealthy nations.  The product also carries the risk of serious injury that can result in life-long debilitation, both physically and psychologically.

A particularly disturbing issue is the grossly disproportionate level of gunfire deaths in US children versus other peer nations.  The horrific massacre of 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary represents less than 1% of gun-related deaths in our country’s youth each year.  The leading cause of death in African-American teens is gun-related, and those deaths contribute to a full year decrease in the life expectancy of black males in our country.  It has been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the gun-related death rate in US children under the age of 15 years is nearly 12 times that of 25 other industrialized nations combined.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that the morbidity and mortality associated with firearm injuries in US children is “a significant public health problem”, “epidemic”, and has called for serious study on the matter.  And, as has been reported in the academic literature, there is a correlation (that holds across both countries and states) regarding the level of gun ownership and gun violence – the more guns the greater the incidence of gun violence.   The US exhibits by far both the highest per capita gun ownership and population adjusted gun-related death rate of any other Western democracy.  A death rate in the US that is reflected in both the general population as well as children.  The data are clear that more guns have actually made us, and our children, less safe.

But what is exceptionally troubling, and what I have found to be poorly understood by the public, is just how long this issue with children has been known.  The CDC and AAP published their findings and opinion in the 1990’s.  Not only has Congress failed to intervene in the matter, lawmakers have actually worked to obstruct both the generation and availability of information while allowing expanded public exposure to increasingly more powerful versions of these products.  And while doing so, many members of Congress have been accepting political contributions from the NRA – contributions that are derived, in part, from the very industry that financially benefits from such a legislative agenda.

Particularly disturbing in light of the Newtown incident was the AAP forewarning in a 1997 publication: “The recent occurrence of several highly publicized shootings in suburban or middle size town schools deserves continued serious study and prompt local and national responses.”  And yet our lawmakers, under the influence of the NRA, have all but choked off money for such research, first with the CDC and more recently with the National Institutes of Health.

Speaking frankly, in the industry where I worked, if a corporation was aware that it had a product that was associated with a disproportionately high loss of life in children, and the corporation worked to obstruct generation and dissemination of such information while expanding public exposure to even more powerful versions of the product that claimed multiple other young lives, executives of that corporation would have faced criminal prosecution under federal law.  It is difficult to argue that our lawmakers have not been complicit in contributing to this high loss of life in American children as well as increasing the risk of events like Newtown, Tucson, and Aurora, all of which claimed the lives of youngsters.  And that lawmakers are using an element of our Bill of Rights to justify product-related deaths in children is, frankly, offensive.  To the contrary, our Congress has a long storied history over the past century of enacting numerous laws to ensure the protection of children.

There will be forthcoming recommendations from Vice President Biden’s working group intended to reduce the level of gun violence in our country.  Yet I read that certain measures, such as banning types of weaponry that have been used in mass shootings involving children, will meet political resistance by legislators.  I would hope that your party will embrace the need for tighter gun regulation regarding our children’s health and safety, perhaps even making additional recommendations.  But in doing so, remember the data are clear that more guns have made us, and our children, less safe.

That our lawmakers, through both their actions and inactions, have knowingly permitted such a disparate loss of life in US children to persist, while accepting contributions derived from the industry that financially benefits from such behavior, represents the worst of special-interest driven politics.  It was never intended that the Second Amendment be used to justify such a disparate loss of young life in this country.

Should you or your colleagues wish, I can provide sources for the information contained in this correspondence.