The CDC Can't Research Gun Violence, And The GOP Wants To Keep It That Way

For the last 20 years, the CDC has been effectively blocked from carrying out gun-violence research, and the Republican Party wants to keep it that way. If any recent incident was going to spur serious, critical research into gun violence and its causes, you'd think it would be last year's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — and for a few brief months, it was. Even Georgia Republican Rep. Jack Kingston said he wanted more research into not only guns, but video games and mental health.

But as so often happens in politics, a tough upcoming primary race for a seat in the Senate has changed his mind. In a statement to ProPublica, Kingston said he would oppose President Barack Obama's proposal for $10 million to go toward research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for gun research. He called Obama's request an attempt to "fund propaganda for his gun-grabbing initiatives through the CDC" and vowed that it would be excluded from the appropriations bill for the 2015 fiscal year.

Back in the 1990s the Clinton administration began to look into gun-related deaths as a public health issue, which ruffled the feathers of conservatives in Congress and piqued the interest of the National Rifle Association. Under pressure from the NRA, Congress immediately cut the CDC's funding for firearms injury prevention activities from more than $2.7 million in 2005 to a negligible $100,000 in 2012.

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Congress also moved to add language to the appropriations bill that funds the CDC. According to the CDC's website, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act states 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."

As chairman of this appropriations subcommittee, Kingston was in a unique position to actually do something about that language and get the ball rolling with some research. He decided not to take that opportunity.

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As Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who led the CDC's gun violence research in the 1990s, points out, there's one fundamental way both the NRA and gun control opponents in Congress are going very wrong: research into gun violence does not equal pro-gun control. It is very possible to be in favor of Americans' right to bear arms and to be a supporter of gun research.

Fortunately outright CDC research into gun violence is not the only avenue of gun research open in the United States; it's possible to look at the issue in a broader context. Last year Obama successfully fought for more CDC funding to expand the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), a database chronicling the circumstances surrounding all violent deaths. The National Institutes of Health has also put out a call for new research projects to examine firearms violence.

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There are also those in Congress who are on Obama's side when it comes to increased funding into gun violence research. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) teamed up in support of the President's push for $10 million in research funding, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) who chairs the corresponding appropriations subcommittee in the Senate has called investing in gun violence research a "critical need."

“Gun violence is a public health crisis, and we should attack it with all the urgency and resources it demands,” Markey said in a statement. “This research funding will ensure we have better data about what causes gun violence and what can be done to prevent it. I commend President Obama for this critical investment, which will help us make progress towards keeping our neighborhoods and communities safer.”