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Congress Quietly Barred a Government Agency From Studying Gun Violence Three Months Ago

The CDC hasn’t been allowed to seriously study the causes of gun violence since 1996.

via United States Navy

In remarks yesterday on the tragic campus shooting in Oregon, President Barack Obama challenged news organizations to compare the number of Americans killed by gun violence in the last decade to the number killed by terrorists. GOOD did that right here. But the second piece of the president’s remarks has gotten less notice.

“[W]e have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths,” President Obama said. “How can that be?”

That thing about Congress—that’s true. In late June of this year, the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee voted 32-19 against an amendment that would have reversed a 20-year moratorium on Centers for Disease Control research into gun violence.

As POLITICO reported in June:

A House GOP staffer said the existing provision technically doesn’t bar gun-violence research. Rather, it blocks any gun-control advocacy by the CDC. However, Republicans would consider any CDC findings that recommend limitations on guns to be gun-control advocacy.

The ban dates back to 1996, when, as the Washington Post’s Todd C. Frankel explains, the NRA accused the CDC of politicizing gun violence research and then threatened to strip the agency of all its funding. Though President Obama officially reversed the prohibition in the wake of 2012’s horrific Newtown school shooting, CDC researchers have received very, very little funding for the study of the underlying causes of gun violence.

A January 2013 report from Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns organization found that the CDC’s firearm injury prevention research funding has fallen by 96 percent since 1996, and is now just $100,000 of the agency’s $5.6 billion budget.

That’s particularly unfortunate because investigations into gun violence seem to fit exactly into the research agency’s purview. In fact, its Division of Violence Prevention maintains a National Violent Death Reporting System.

“It is possible for us to conduct firearm-related research within the context of our efforts to address youth violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, and suicide,” a CDC spokeswoman told the Washington Post, “but our resources are very limited.”

Individual scientists say there are few sponsors for research into gun violence, due to the political pressure. One Duke researcher told the Post that without support from the government and others, the study of gun violence is “a field without a future.”

“It’s odd,” the researcher said, “but if you’re trying to do policy-informed research, you run into the fact that there are elected officials who don’t want to know the answer.”

Is this country’s mass shooting epidemic a symptom of inappropriate gun laws? Its poor mental healthcare system? Politicians have aruged both. But it will be difficult to learn the truth without well-funded research into gun violence.

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