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Gun Violence Researcher Sees Opportunities In New Funding

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will receive $12.5 million of the $25 million Congress is providing for research into gun violence. The rest will go to the National Institutes of Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will receive $12.5 million of the $25 million Congress is providing for research into gun violence. The rest will go to the National Institutes of Health.

A spending agreement struck by Congressional leaders this week included $25 million for gun violence research.

The funding goes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. Since the passage of the Dickey Amendment in 1996, which prohibited funding for any research that promotes gun control, the CDC and NIH have funded very few gun violence-related research projects.

Megan Ranney, co-founder of the gun violence prevention non-profit Affirm Research, applauded the new funding, and says there are major gaps in researchers’ understanding of the topic.

“Imagine if I’d told you that we hadn’t substantially funded research on heart disease or cancer since 1996,” Ranney said.

Right out of the gate, Ranney added, the CDC should start with firearm suicide studies, which she described as very preventable deaths.

About 60% of firearm deaths are suicides, a little-known fact among the U.S. population.

Democrats have been preparing to fund this topic for a while now. In 2013, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that directed the CDC to study gun violence.

Shortly after that, the CDC released a study on gun violence in Wilmington, Delaware that critics said broke little new ground on the topic. And there was still no funding specifically designated for the topic.

A spending bill last year included a provision which said that the CDC could do gun violence research. But still, no funds were sent its way.

Mark Rosenberg, who led the CDC’s gun violence research when the Dickey Amendment was passed, said the controversial rule can actually be helpful to politicians wary of gun control measures.

“They can say to their constituents ‘Yes I voted to fund this research, but these research dollars can not be used to advocate or promote gun control,’” said Rosenberg.

The dam blocking funding began to break earlier this year. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives sought $50 million for gun violence research, before settling on $25 million in the plan reportedly agreed to with the Republican-controlled Senate.

In September, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson from Georgia proposed adding $300 million to the CDC’s budget over 4 years to study the causes of “mass violence.” That bill is sitting in committee in the Senate.

“This news matters. It is necessary,” Ranney said. “This is the first time in 23 years that the CDC has been appropriated money to fund firearm injury research.”

A 2017 research letter published in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, compared the amount of money spent on gun violence research to other leading causes of death in the U.S. The researchers found that gun violence research received 1.6% of the funding it should have, based on the funding for comparable causes like sepsis or liver disease.

“I don’t want people to expect miracles,” Ranney said. “What I don’t want is for people to look in two years and say, ‘Uh, there’s still gun violence. We funded research and there’s still violence.’”

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

Copyright 2021 Guns and America. To see more, visit Guns and America.

Matthew Richmond
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