How Congress' Spending Bill Could Completely Change Gun Violence Research In America

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A new budget proposal that passed the House of Representatives on Thursday could change how the federal government gathers and analyzes data regarding gun violence. Namely, it clarifies the Dickey Amendment, which for years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has interpreted as forbidding it from gathering data on gun violence and its causes. In short, the new House spending bill would let the CDC research gun violence, and that could have big implications for public health.

For years, the CDC has interpreted the Dickey Amendment as statutorily forbidding it from gathering data on gun violence and its causes. Now, however, congressional Republicans have agreed to include a provision in its latest budget proposal that would clarify that the amendment, first passed as part of a 1996 government funding bill by former Arkansas representative Jay Dickey.

As The Hill details, the amendment broadly states, "None of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control." Consequently, the CDC has shied away from engaging in gun violence research, seeing as such research could lead to the conclusion that gun control is a public health necessity.

The House's latest government funding bill includes language clarifying that the CDC can indeed research gun violence and its causes. This could be very significant, because the CDC being able to research gun violence and death as a public health issue would help build the case for gun control as a mechanism aiding the public good.

It's the sort of development that the pro-gun lobby is likely not to enthused about; the NRA supported the passage of the Dickey Amendment in the first place.

It's unclear how much practical impact this clarification would have, seeing as the original language of the amendment didn't necessarily forbid the CDC from conducting gun violence research, but was broadly interpreted as such. It's worth noting that the NRA has supported the Dickey Amendment, owing to its efforts to prevent gun violence from being researched and addressed as a public health issue.

Dickey, the aforementioned Arkansas representative, who died last year, reportedly once referred to himself as a congressional point man for the NRA. He ultimately came to regret having blocked the federal government from engaging in gun violence research, however. In 2015, two years before his death, he wrote a letter to the House Democratic chair on gun violence prevention, insisting that the government had to take action.

"It is my position that somehow or someway we should slowly but methodically fund such research until a solution is reached. Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution," Dickey wrote, as detailed at the time by CNN.

There's been a national focus on gun violence and gun control proposals in recent weeks, thanks in no small part to the activism of some of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors. The shooting, which took place on Feb. 14, killed 17 people, including 14 students and three members of the school's staff. It's worth noting that not all of the Stoneman Douglas survivors agree on the merits of gun control, as some have advocated a more conservative position on the issue.

The shooting led President Donald Trump to voice support for some gun control measures, although in the weeks since he's backed off from ideas that would've irked the NRA. Trump has instead doubled-down on the idea of arming certain teachers and members of school staff, thus increasing the number of guns present in schools.

On Saturday, March 24, a series of major demonstrations in support of gun control will be taking place in Washington, D.C. and in cities throughout the United States. Called the March For Our Lives, it's expected to draw hundreds of thousands of activists and protesters, much as the Women's March did over the past two years, although just how many people end up turning out remains to be seen.