The Congressional Ban on Gun Violence Prevention Research

In 1996, the National Rifle Association’s Congressional allies added a rider to a budget bill that stripped the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of funding for gun violence prevention research and enacted language stating that “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.”Public Law 104–208, Act making omnibus consolidated appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1997, and for other purposes. 104th Congress. As a federal agency, the CDC had always been barred from advocacy, but the threat of further Congressional attacks caused the agency to back away from gun violence research. With this rider in place for two decades, the country has been forced to address its exceptional rate of gun violence effectively blind. Even the congressman who authored the ban, Republican Jay Dickey of Arkansas, has publicly reversed his position, calling on his fellow legislators to act and concluding that “doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution.”Former Rep. Jay Dickey calls to end federal ban on gun violence research. Office of Congressman Mike Thompson. Congress should remove this restriction and revive research on firearms that can reduce gun crime and violence, and save lives.

Firearms: A Leading Cause of Injury Deaths Among Young Americans

  • Injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans age 1 to 44,Leading causes of death by age group, 2013. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).; and guns cause 1 in 4 injury deaths in that age group.Leading Causes of Death Reports, National and Regional, 1999 – 2013. CDC.
  • The CDC’s Injury Center is the largest organization in the world focused on the prevention of violence and unintentional injury as a public health issue. The Injury Center addresses important causes of death, such as drug overdoses, motor vehicle accidents, and traumatic brain injuries, but does not focus on one of the leading causes of death among young Americans: firearm injuries. Grants for Injury Control Research Centers. National Institutes of Health.

The Long-Term Impact of the Ban

  • The CDC—like all publicly-funded research agencies—abides strict procedural controls when selecting research topics, and was already forbidden from engaging in political advocacy at the time of the 1996 appropriations rider. But the message Congress sent to the CDC was clear: further research on firearms would endanger the entire agency’s funding.
  • In the years since, CDC funding for firearm injury prevention has fallen 96 percent. In 2012, the Centers devoted $100,000 of its $5.6 billion budget to the subject. “CDC FY 2013 Budget Request Summary, CDC.

Even as the overall CDC budget climbed, funding for gun violence prevention research fell 96 percent.
  • As a result, peer-reviewed research on gun violence has sharply declined. A review conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns in 2013 revealed that academic publishing on firearm violence fell by 60 percent between 1996 and 2010.Access Denied: How the Gun Lobby is Depriving Police, Policy Makers, and the Public of the Data we Need to Prevent Gun Violence. Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

  • Even as the overall CDC budget climbed, funding for gun violence prevention research fell 96 percent. Major public research funding for gun violence prevention is estimated at $2 million annually. By contrast, in 2011, the National Institutes of Health devoted $21 million to the study of headaches. Estimates of Funding for Various Research, Condition, and Disease Categories (RCDC). National Institutes of Health.

Injury prevention research saves lives and money

  • Firearm injuries and deaths cost the United States $229 billion per year.What does gun violence really cost? Mother Jones. The Department of Transportation estimates that the value of a single human life is $9.4 million. Guidance on Treatment of the Economic Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) in U.S. Department of Transportation Analyses- 2015 Adjustment. Thomson & Monje. If research helped the U.S. avert just one firearm death each year, it would effectively pay for itself.
  • Other federal agencies conduct nonpartisan, evidence-based research to keep Americans safe. For example, safety research by the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration helped those agencies identify and recommend important changes in the designs of cars and roadways, the laws that govern their use, and the ways those laws are enforced. The result has been a profound decline in traffic accident deaths, saving an estimated 328,551 lives between 1960 and 2002.Lives Saved by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Other Vehicle Safety Technologies, 1960-2002. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Technical Information Service.

A consensus on the need for basic science on gun violence

  • The National Research Council’s 2004 report Firearms and Violence, a landmark assessment of the state of knowledge in the field, put it this way: “The inadequacy of data on gun ownership and use is among the most critical barriers to a better understanding of gun violence. […] If policy makers are to have a solid empirical and research base for decisions about firearms and violence, the federal government needs to support a systematic program of data collection and research that specifically addresses that issue.”Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review. Charles F. Wellford, John V. Pepper, and Carol V. Petrie, editors.
  • The congressman who authored the ban, Jay Dickey (R-AR), has publicly reversed his position, stating that he regrets his role in suppressing “valid and valuable work.”Mark Rosenberg and Jay Dickey. We won’t know the cause of gun violence until we look for it. Washington Post, July 27, 2012.
  • Over 100 leading researchers in medicine, public health, crime, economics, and public policy joined together to call for “collection of basic data, scientific inquiry, policy formation, policy analysis and rigorous evaluation,” a goal with “broad and deep consensus within the violence-prevention research community.Letter to the Honorable Joseph Bide. Braga et al.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Physician’s Alliance, the American College of Preventative Medicine, and numerous other medical associations sent a letter to Congress urging elected officials to “put patients over politics” and “fund the research needed to save lives.” Over 2,000 Physicians Urge Congress to End the Ban on CDC and NIH Gun Violence Research. Doctors for America.

Opportunities for Future Research

The Institute of Medicine have developed an agenda for research that could be initiated with renewed resources in this area,Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence. Institute of Medicine. including:

  • How can we identify and help at-risk individuals before they reach the point of perpetrating mass shootings?
  • What are effective measures for ensuring safer storage of firearms in order to reduce rates of unintentional firearm injury of children?
  • What are risk factors for suicide and what are the most effective points of intervention to prevent deaths among lawful gun owners?
  • What community-level factors affect unlawful access to and use of firearms by children and teens?
  • What factors mediate the association of alcohol use and firearm violence, and what steps can communities take do reduce alcohol-related gun violence?
  • What can now be said about the impact of state laws restricting firearm access by domestic abusers on intimate partner gun violence?
  • Similarly, what do evaluations of state laws requiring background checks or permits to purchase firearms show about their impact on firearm injury death?