The spending bill that President Trump signed Friday included language that might make it easier to study gun violence. Despite the fact that tens of thousands of Americans die by firearms annually, the public health crisis has been little researched for decades.
In 1996, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment banning government funding from being used to "advocate or promote gun control." While not an explicit prohibition on government research, Congress simultaneously cut the Center for Disease Control's funding by $2.6 million dollars-the exact amount the CDC had allocated to research on gun violence. The CDC got the message, and research on gun violence, left to rely on private dollars, has stalled ever since.
Even Representative Jay Dickey, who died last year, said he had “regrets" about the amendment that he authored. “I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time,” he told HuffPost in 2015. The latest spending bill doesn’t repeal the Dickey Amendment, but it does clarify it, saying that the CDC is in fact permitted to the causes of gun violence.
Experts, however, are doubtful that much will change until Congress actually appropriates cash for gun research. Still, former CDC National Center for Injury prevention and Control director Mark Rosenberg said he was optimistic about the new language in the federal budget. As he told Mother Jones:
This is a big first step, this basically clears the path and it’s Congress saying this is the path we want to go down. That’s huge. Most people don’t understand how you can research [gun violence]. What does that have to do with gun violence? Isn’t it just a question of arming all the teachers? Isn’t it just a question of hardening the targets, letting more people carry concealed weapons, so that there’s always a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun? I think this says that research has a lot to do with this. We need to answer these basic questions, and we owe it to legislators to give them the data about what’s safe and effective, before we ask them to vote.
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