Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Unarmed Against Gun Violence

By Evin RothschildPublished June 18, 2018

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Even with clarification in the new spending bill stating the CDC can do research on gun violence, no money has been allocated for investigators to do this research. Without substantial data, no effective policy measure can be designed to combat gun violence in the United States.
6/18/18

    Seemingly constant mass shootings in America ensure that gun violence is something that every American is sadly all too familiar with.  Unfortunately, unfunded gun violence researchers at the CDC seemed to be the only ones not armed in the conversation about this public safety concern.  In 1996, Representative Jay Dickey from Arkansas sponsored a provision, the Dickey Amendment, to a spending bill that mandated that, "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the CDC may be used to advocate for or promote gun control." This provision was enacted after outcry from the NRA after the publication of Arthur Kellerman's 1993 study that found that keeping a gun in the home is strongly and independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide.  While this provision did not explicitly prevent any gun research, that same year the CDC budget was cut by $2.6 million, the exact amount that it had spent the previous year on gun research, essentially limiting all funds available for established researchers and discouraging budding researchers to enter the dying field. Not only did this spending bill cut funds, but also it provided an aggressive climate for gun researchers that left them vulnerable to attacks from the NRA and the public opposed to gun control.  Since 1996, the provision has been renewed year after year, causing the gun policy research industry to dwindle down to about only 30 researchers nationally.  
After the February 14, 2018 massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School and the continued protesting and public movement kick started by the Parkland students, Congress introduced a clarification into the $1.3 trillion federal spending bill for the rest of 2018 that states that the Dickey amendment does not actually prohibit research into gun violence; instead it just prohibits advocating for gun control.  Although this concession seems helpful, it does not actually allocate any additional money to the CDC to fund gun research, leaving the CDC in the same position it was in before.  It is vital that the government allocates more money to the Injury Prevention and Control division of the CDC in order to fund research about gun violence in the United States.
    By mortality rates, gun violence is the least researched cause of death per person it kills.  The lack of research leads to a lack of data which causes misunderstanding in what the problem is and how it can be fixed with a policy solution.  For example, an investigation with significant funding is required to research the impact of specific gun laws, such as open carry laws, the way guns get into criminal hands, how gun laws impact sales on the black market, or even the psychological understanding of what causes people to commit gun violence.  Some private universities have small centers that research gun violence, but without the availability of federal grants that are given in most other research areas, many of the studies cannot be as comprehensive as desired. Without the data to evaluate proposed and enacted policies, it is unclear how the United States can progress to reduce the death toll by guns.  Lawmakers may push for proposals, but there is actually little research that says which gun control regulation would be most effective. Allocating more funding to the CDC marked for research into gun violence would provide policy makers with the data they need to understand effective gun control policies. Additionally, federal grants should be awarded, like cancer research grants, to those whose studies seems promising.  It is important that the funds are not coming from involved organizations, such as the NRA or an interest group in support of a specific gun control measure in order to ensure the research is as unbiased as possible.
    In the current political climate, it is unlikely that Congress will allocate money for the CDC to investigate gun violence.  Despite the public outcry and the national March for Our Lives, the NRA-backed majority Congress will likely stick to the NRA's desire of avoiding research into gun violence.  Hopefully, a friendlier political environment will soon arise that will allocate more funding to the CDC to research gun violence.