04/09/2013 07:45 am ET Updated Jun 09, 2013


... and counting.

In August, 1996, we broadcast a program responding to the bombing at Centennial Park during the Atlanta Olympic Games. Blessedly, the bomber -- anti-gay and anti-abortion -- is now serving life sentences for that and other fatal bombings.

The program we broadcast was one we had recorded a month earlier with Dr. Mark Rosenberg, then Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). NCIPC's goal was to reduce injuries and deaths by applying the tools of science. Violence and, more specifically, firearms (a leading cause of death and injury in the U.S.) were an important focus of NCIPC's work ... for a while.

In 1996, Rep. Jay Dickey, a Republican from Arkansas who liked to call himself the NRA's point man in Congress, introduced a bill to cut the NCIPC's budget the same amount, $2.6 million, that the agency had spent on gun violence research. Subsequently the Senate restored this amount but specified that it be used only for traumatic brain injury, and added the wording: "None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control." That has been the law ever since. (

In the time since we first broadcast our program with Dr. Rosenberg, more that 500,000 Americans have been killed by firearms, more than half a million lives cut short.

To be clear, Dr. Rosenberg's work would not have prevented all of those deaths, but it stood a good chance of meaningfully reducing what he calls "preventable deaths." And, to be equally clear, the half million deaths does not include the wounded who survived, or the suffering, the grief, the families destroy or, more coldly, the economic damage.

Dr. Rosenberg told us that NCIPC's approach was a straightforward, fact-based approach:

• What's the problem?
• Why are we having that problem?
• What works to prevent that problem?
• How do we implement that solution?

As Dr. Rosenberg said to us: "The test of whether you accept an idea should not be 'where it comes from' but 'whether or not it works'."

Unfortunately, evidence -- repeatably demonstrable relationships between well-defined elements -- is not always well received. Scientific findings often conflict with our beliefs or prejudices. In that struggle, science too often loses. However, to foreclose the possibility that facts might somehow influence policy-making, the NRA's congressional puppets eliminated the fact-finders. Why permit reality to intrude on your fantasies?

In the current debate about the public health issue of firearm-related injuries and deaths, we are now missing almost two decades of intelligence which should be informing the discussion. The absence of that intelligence is irresponsible, it is appalling and it is stupid. People's lives depend on it. In its absence, lives are being lost, destroyed, wasted.

I have argued previously that the NRA is a marketing and PR front for the munitions industry. In a recent cover story, BusinessWeek makes a compelling case that I had the power relationship reversed: the NRA is in charge. As Smith & Wesson discovered, economic as well as political terrorism are a central part of the NRA's kit, as is fear-mongering. The NRA has borrowed an imaginary dystopia, lifted from Mad Max and less creative spectacles. This dystopian view aligns closely with that now preached by the formerly Grand Old Party.

More evidence of NRA extremism rolls in almost daily. Syria, Iran, North Korea and the NRA oppose the arms treaty regulating the global trade in conventional weapons. Presumably the NRA is concerned about the Taliban's Second Amendment rights.

The NRA also threatened to block ratification of the treaty in the United States Senate. I hadn't realized that NRA actually exercised formal control of the Senate ... and this brings us to the crux of the matter: had Dr. Rosenberg been allowed to continue his research, it would not matter.

If corporation chieftains permit themselves to be intimidated (as BusinessWeek asserts) by the NRA, the asymmetrical power awarded corporations by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case will further undermined our tenuous republic. Corporations lack a moral sense. If reason and courage desert them, bad results follow. Though more extreme than most, the NRA is not alone among the rogues representing tiny, self-serving constituencies. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the various front organizations funded by the Koch brothers are prominent examples. But the problem runs even more deeply.

If, as now appears to be the case, our elected representatives have surrendered their loyalty, their consciences, their brains and their humanity to the NRA and other political thugs, evidence is irrelevant, the will of the people is a mere nuisance.

We have come to a de facto acceptance of the notion that our elected representatives' principal function is to be reelected, that legalized bribery in the form of campaign contributions is perfectly acceptable, that a sinecure as a highly paid lobbyist awaits, that said representative's career is much more important than the well-being of the public, that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness apply only to those sell-outs and to their masters.

This condition must end. The NRA isn't the problem. Our representatives are the problem. Apparently we must remind them whom they are obligated to serve ... and insist that they do so. It's why government was invented. Look no further than the next half-million victims. Start at 1 and count to 500,000.