More than 100 scientists from universities in the United States lobbied Vice President Joe Biden, asking him to allow the centre for Disease Control and Prevention to once again fund research into the public health impacts of guns. The scientists signed a letter to Biden last week, urging him to consider making “direct investments in unbiased, scientific research and data infrastructure” related to firearm safety.
The CDC isn’t allowed to pursue many kinds of gun research due to the lobbying strength of the National Rifle Association.
As a result of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying efforts, governmental research into gun mortality has shrunk by 96 per cent since the mid-1990s, according to Reuters.
Prior to 1996, the centre for Disease Control funded research into the causes of firearm-related deaths. After a series of articles finding that increased prevalence of guns lead to increased incidents of gun violence, Republicans sought to remove all federal funding for research into gun deaths.
In 1996, Republican Rep. Jay Dickey removed $2.6 million from the CDC budget — the precise amount the CDC spent on gun research in 1995 — at a time when the centre was conducting more studies into gun-related deaths as a “public health phenomenon,” according to The New York Times. The NRA and some pro-gun Congressmen perceived this as more of an attack.
Here’s an excerpt of a 1997 article in Reason about the fight to kill gun science:
Since 1985 the CDC has funded scores of firearm studies, all reaching conclusions that favour stricter gun control. But CDC officials insist they are not pursuing an anti-gun agenda. In a 1996 interview with the Times-Picayune, CDC spokeswoman Mary Fenley adamantly denied that the agency is “trying to eliminate guns.”
At the behest of the NRA, Congressional Republicans successfully removed all federal funding to the centre for Disease Control that would have gone into researching the effect of guns and the root causes of gun violence.
That funding was eventually reinstated, but has been decreasing since, and the CDC re-designated the money to conduct research on traumatic brain injuries.
The current law reads: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the centres for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Because of the NRA’s successful campaign to eliminate the scientific research into the public health effect of firearms, very few researchers specialize in the field anymore, University of California, Davis, professor Garen Wintemute told Reuters. He said there isn’t enough money to sustain research.
Since there is a lack of funding for independent research, the gun debate has been lacking in unimpeachable statistics that could effect a change in the status quo.
As it stands, the main available statistics regarding the gun debate are raw gun homicide and suicide stats collected through the FBI, international data and data from groups with a direct stake in the gun debate — for instance, pro-gun stats from the NRA and pro-gun control stats from the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.
The scientists writing the letter to Biden wrote that, effectively, the NRA has successfully hamstrung a credible gun control conversation. When the only statistics available are imperfect, it becomes that much easier to disregard them.