We are Missing Decades of Research on Gun Violence

America has a gun violence problem. When there’s a shooting, we hear arguments debating the cause of senseless violence, whether gun control is effective, and the role, if any that mental illness plays. In truth, America’s gun violence problem is a cultural issue that is going to require multiple solutions. And while some common sense gun control measures, like banning assault weapons, may be easy to implement and effective, in reality, we currently don't know what works because we don't have the data to tell us. After facing another national tragedy in Parkland, Florida, our nation is once again scrambling around trying to figure out what we can do to keep our children safe. What we need is evidence-based solutions for gun violence prevention and intervention. But first, we need to lift the ban on funding for gun violence research. From 1986 to 1996, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sponsored quality, peer-reviewed research on gun violence, but in 1996 Congress passed the Dickey Agreement which prevents the Center for Injury Prevention at the CDC, and all other agencies from the Department of Health and Human Services from using government funds that advocate or promote gun control. This bill has been included in every spending bill since 1996. To be clear, the CDC isn't banned from conducting research on gun violence, they just aren't provided with the funds or resources to sponsor it. Incidentally, the CDC also fired Mark Rosenberg, the director who at the time was identified as the person most closely associated with gun violence research which had a chilling effect on CDC employees. 

The Dickey Bill was introduced because the National Rifle Association (NRA) wasn't happy with the data generated from prior research. In 1993, the CDC funded a study with the University of Tennessee and found that gun ownership significantly increases the risk of homicide and suicide (Kellerman, et al.). Following this report, the NRA accused the CDC of spreading propaganda and lobbied to get rid of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention but was unsuccessful. Instead, Congress enacted The Omnibus Appropriations Bill in 1996 and included the Dickey Amendment in the Bill, which stripped approximately 2.6 million dollars from the budget that could have been spent on research on guns and violent behavior.

The Dickey Bill was named after Congressmen James Dickey who is a life member of the National Rifle Association and who at the time of its passage referred to himself as the "NRA’s point person." Years later, after several tragedies involving gun violence, Dicky had a change of heart and in 2012 wrote an Oped for the Washington Post where he stated:

"...But we are in strong agreement now that scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries and that ways to prevent firearm deaths can be found without encroaching on the rights of legitimate gun owners. The same evidence-based approach that is saving millions of lives from motor-vehicle crashes, as well as from smoking, cancer and HIV/AIDS, can help reduce the toll of deaths and injuries from gun violence.”

Last year, Representative Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla), whose hometown Orlando was the site of the Pulse Night Club shooting targeting the LGBT community introduced a bill that would have ensured the CDC sponsorship of evidence-based research on gun violence. This year, in a bipartisan attempt at passing the bill, Murphy and Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla) are renewing efforts to drop the ban on gun research. Even CDC scientists are pleading to do research on gun violence. But some Republicans, like Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) appear unlikely to remove the Dickey Amendment from the current spending bill due March 23, 2018, and want to avoid "turning the spending bill into a debate about gun control."

If you want the Dickey Amendment removed from the current spending bill, I encourage you to contact your representatives and let them know.

Joanne Bagshaw