Customize your JAMA Network experience by selecting one or more topics from the list below.
Stephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Executive Deputy EditorIndividualAuthor
In Reply: Dr Bennett provocatively equates
the legislative process to that by which medical treatments are determined
safe and effective. By the standard of the medical model, according to Bennett,
lawmakers have the process backward: first they should assess the efficacy
and "unintended consequences" of proposed legislation, then, and only then,
should they implement new law. Therefore, because it reverses the evidentiary
standard of the medical model, Bennett rejects as a "disservice to society"
my conclusion that current research evidence does not warrant altering Brady
Act–type regulations on the sale of firearms.
Bennett wishes legislators would behave more like physicians and less
like lawyers, but if medical researchers were cast in the role of lawmakers,
they would be subject to the temptations and constraints inherent in the role.
The contribution of empirical research to the legislative process is necessarily
limited, not because lawyers make the laws but because law making is a fundamentally
political act. Before wishing otherwise, Bennett might want to contemplate
the fate of representative government were the legislatures filled with nothing
but researchers. Empirical research does on occasion influence the legislative
process, but typically after the fact and always by way of political mobilization.
The political nature of the legislative process means that research findings
will be put to selective use and open to conflicting interpretation, no matter
whether the research precedes or follows the legislation. With respect to
contentious issues such as firearms regulation, one party's palliative will
be another's poison.
My reading of the available evidence suggests that the Brady Act is
neither panacea nor poison. It may reduce suicide rates, and until studies
model the effects of Brady Act–type regulations on the secondary firearms
market, where most criminal offenders obtain their guns, its influence on
homicide rates will not be known. There may be reasons to repeal the Brady
Act, but they rest on normative and political premises immune to scientific
Rosenfeld R. Impact of the Brady Act on Homicide and Suicide Rates—Reply. JAMA. 2000;284(21):2718–2721. doi:10.1001/jama.284.21.2717
Coronavirus Resource Center
Create a personal account or sign in to: