POLITICS

Senators Take A Small Stab At Ending The Ban On Gun Violence Research

The CDC can't research gun violence. These four lawmakers think that's ridiculous.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) are two of four senators who signed a letter to the chairs
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) are two of four senators who signed a letter to the chairs of the Senate appropriations committee asking for a hearing on the efficacy of gun-related research done by the CDC.

WASHINGTON -- Four Northeastern senators are pushing to undo a decades-old policy that effectively bans federally funded research into the root causes and effects of gun violence.

In a letter to the chairs of the appropriations committee, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called for a hearing on the efficacy of gun-related research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Such research has been frozen since 1996, when Congress passed an amendment declaring that funds could not be used by the CDC “to advocate or promote gun control.” In recent months, calls to revisit the issue have grown louder in the wake of high-profile instances of gun violence.

In their letter to Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Vice Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the senators argue that the ban has been dramatically misapplied from its original purpose, noting that its author -- former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) -- has expressed regrets that the CDC has stopped doing research into the matter.

“We urge the Committee to hold a hearing on funding CDC gun-violence-prevention research, and to invite Rep. Dickey and [Mark] Rosenberg, [Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC from 1994 to 1999] to testify,” the write. “We must take steps to fund gun-violence research, because only the United States government is in a position to establish an integrated public health research agenda to understand the causes of gun violence and identify the most effective strategies for prevention.”

In addition to encouraging an appropriations committee hearing, Markey and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) have also introduced legislation setting aside $10 million a year for 10 years for the CDC to conduct the research. The latter stands little chance of passage in the current Congress. Even the former might be too big a lift.

Lawmakers have shown little appetite to revisit the CDC ban, believing further studies are either wasteful or a pathway toward federally funded advocacy of gun control measures. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) largely ducked the issue upon assuming his leadership role. But in the recent omnibus appropriations bill -- like all the others since 1996 -- the Dickey language was once again included. 

Read the full language of the letter below:

Dear Chairman Cochran and Vice Chairwoman Mikulski,

We write to request that the Committee on Appropriations hold a hearing on appropriating funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence in the United States, and on the annual appropriations rider that some have interpreted as preventing it.

In 1996, Congress included a rider in the annual appropriations bill that prohibited the CDC from lobbying on behalf of gun control.  Specifically, the rider provides that none of the funds made available to the CDC may be used “to advocate or promote gun control.”  Unfortunately, some have misconstrued this rider not as a ban on supporting legislative efforts to limit access to firearms, but as a ban on supporting scientific research into the causes of gun violence.  This rider, which Congress has included in every subsequent annual appropriations bill, has had the unfortunate consequence of blocking all efforts by the federal government to study the causes of gun violence.

Gun violence continues to plague our country.  Mass shootings, like those in San Bernardino, Roseburg, Lafayette, Chattanooga, Charleston, Newtown, and Aurora have become incomprehensibly commonplace.  Every year, more than 32,000 people in the United States die from gun violence.  The troublesome persistence of shooting incidents only underscores the continued need to support peer-reviewed research.

Even the author of the original rider, former Representative Jay Dickey (R-AR), now supports funding CDC gun-violence research and believes that the rider should not stand in the way.  As Representative Dickey and Mark Rosenberg, Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC from 1994 to 1999, recently opined together in theWashington Post:  “Both of us now believe strongly that federal funding for research into gun-violence prevention should be dramatically increased. . . .  However, it is also important for all to understand that [the rider’s] wording does not constitute an outright ban on federal gun-violence prevention research.  It is critical that the appropriation contain enough money to let science thrive and help us determine what works.”

We urge the Committee to hold a hearing on funding CDC gun-violence-prevention research, and to invite Rep. Dickey and Director Rosenberg to testify.  We must take steps to fund gun-violence research, because only the United States government is in a position to establish an integrated public health research agenda to understand the causes of gun violence and identify the most effective strategies for prevention.

 

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