Five Times Congress Chose Not to Fund Gun Research

WASHINGTON-- When a gunman opened fire at a Las Vegas country music festival on Monday, killing 58 and leaving hundreds wounded, Congress members were again asked why mass shootings continue to occur.But government research agencies have been blocked from trying to find scientific answers to this question for over a decade. Since 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been banned from conducting public health research on gun violence.Despite several mass shootings over the past 10 years, the research ban has been renewed in every budget. The House bill passed earlier this month that funds the CDC includes the ban, as does the Senate version still awaiting a vote.Here are five times that Congress opted for the ban on gun violence research:1: 1996: Congress passes the Dickey AmendmentIn the early 1990s, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control division funded two studies on whether home gun ownership increased suicide or homicide risk. The findings were stark -- when a gun was present in the home, the risk of suicide more than quadrupled and the risk of homicide more than doubled.'"If I were looking at this in the early 90s, I would say, ‘we need to look at many more counties and a diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to make sure we’re seeing something across the United States,’” said Rebecca Goldin, director of the STATS project at Sense about Science USA and professor of mathematical sciences at George Mason University. “It would clearly be a huge concern to look into."The National Rifle Association disputed the findings, calling the studies “recklessly biased research and blatant political advocacy” and embarked on a campaign to shut the division down. In 1996, Arkansas Rep. Jay Dickey pushed through an appropriations bill amendment that no federal funds to CDC “be used to advocate or promote gun control.”While the language didn’t explicitly ban gun research, the move sent a message. Congress restructured the next CDC budget by putting the $2.6 million the agency had spent that year on gun violence research towards traumatic brain injury research.2: 2011: Congress expands the ban to the National Institute of HealthIn 2009, the NIH’s alcohol abuse and alcoholism division funded a study that found gun owners were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than non-gun owners. Conservatives rose up again.“It’s almost as if someone’s been looking for a way to get this study done ever since the Centers for Disease Control was banned from doing it 10 years ago,” Arlington Republican Rep. Joe Barton told The Washington Times at the time. “But it doesn’t make any more sense now than it did then.”The NRA made another advocacy push, and language banning federal money for NIH studies on gun violence was included in the 2011 spending bill funding the institute.A week after the July 2012 mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, Dickey changed his tune in an op-ed in the Washington Post, co-authored with former NCIPC Mark Rosenberg.“Scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries and that ways to prevent firearm deaths can be found without encroaching on the rights of legitimate gun owners,” the two unlikely friends wrote. “The same evidence-based approach that is saving millions of lives from motor-vehicle crashes, as well as from smoking, cancer and HIV/AIDS, can help reduce the toll of deaths and injuries from gun violence."3: 2013: Obama issues executive memorandumIn 2013, following the Sandy Hook shooting in which 20 elementary school children were shot in Newtown, Conn., President Obama issued a memorandum that the CDC and other “shall conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it.”Despite the memorandum, Congress didn't move to renew research.House appropriations chairman Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who had previously called for more gun research following the Sandy Hook shooting, said in 2014 that he would not support the measure.“The President's request to fund propaganda for his gun-grabbing initiatives through the CDC will not be included in the (2015) appropriations bill,” he told Pro Publica in 2014. 4: 2014 and 2015: Democrats try to pass CDC gun research funding billsIn 2014, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey sponsored a bill explicitly funding $10 million of CDC gun research. The measure garnered nine co-sponsors, all Democrats, but died in committee.In 2015, Democrats in the House Energy and Commerce Committee filed a bill that would roll back the ban. Eighty-seven co-sponsors signed on, including Texas Democrats Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Beto O’Rourke of El Paso. The bill went on to the House floor, but was never voted on.Obama also requested $10 million in CDC gun research funding both years, with both requests blocked by Congress.5: 2015: Pelosi tries to remove Dickey Amendment from spending packageIn 2015, a measure to remove the Dickey amendment was swiftly defeated in committee. All four Texans on the panel -- Republicans John Carter of Round Rock, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, and John Culberson of Houston, and Democrat Henry Cuellar of Laredo -- voted to keep the research ban.Dickey wrote a letter to Congress in 2015 pressing members to restart research. “I have recently expressed my regrets that we didn’t continue that research,” he said. “Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution.”As a battle over a mass spending package heated up at the end of the year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that reinstating CDC gun research was a “priority” just days after the San Bernadino, Calif., attack.“We must insist that we cannot have a bill leave the station that still has that ban on research in it,” she said.But Pelosi lost the fight, and the Dickey Amendment was carried into the 2016 budget. In 2016, 17 Democratic senators signed a letter calling for gun research funds to no avail. House Democrats made two tries in the 2016 appropriations process to repeal the Dickey Amendment, but both were defeated without a recorded vote.The ban has been in place ever since.  Continue reading...

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