Dressed in white coats, a group of doctors descended on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning.
Their mission: Deliver more than 2,000 signatures from physicians to members of Congress, urging them to reverse a congressional ban on gun violence that was extended earlier this year.
Little did they know that their push would come just hours before another mass shooting — in San Bernardino, California, where 14 people were left dead and at least 21 others injured.
“Just hours after I stood w/
@Drsforamerica to #EndTheBan, another mass shooting in San Bernadino. #gunviolence is a public health crisis!” wrote Hemant Sindhu, one of the doctors involved in the petition, on Twitter.
The ban, backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) was renewed in the aftermath of the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting that left nine people dead in June.
It remains in place in the wake of last week’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs that killed three people and Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
“Gun violence is a public health problem that kills 90 Americans a day,” said Dr. Alice Chen, the executive director of Doctors for America, the group that delivered the petitions. “Physicians believe it’s time to lift this effective ban and fund the research needed to save lives. We urge Congress to put patients over politics to help find solutions to our Nation’s gun violence crisis.”
As Public Radio International (PRI) has reported, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted to reject an amendment in June that would have allowed the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence.
The reasoning? “A gun is not a disease,” and therefore falls outside of the CDC’s research domain.
“The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference at the time.
“I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”
The fight over research on gun violence goes back a couple decades. In the 1990s, the CDC funded and backed gun-violence research done by Dr. Fred Rivara, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Washington at Seattle Children’s Hospital. He found that having a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide and suicide threefold.
The NRA later admonished the CDC for supporting Rivara’s findings. Rivera accused the organisation recently of working with Congress to try and stifle his and other future research on gun violence.
“[Our research] underwent peer review and was thought to be very solid and worthwhile research,” Rivara told PRI’s the Takeaway in April. “The CDC stood by our research — they had funded it and they stood by it. Unfortunately, it raised the attention of the National Rifle Association, who then worked with pro-gun members of Congress to essentially stop funding firearm research.”
Many CDC employees stopped researching gun violence out of fear they would lose their jobs.
“No federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out” if any gun research could be done, Dr. Arthur Kellerman, Rivara’s colleague that also worked on the original research that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, said in a December 2012 article published in the journal.
It was “really chilling” for gun violence researchers to see the studies dry up, Rivara said.
“Gun deaths and gun injuries as a public health issue are still basically anathema to CDC researchers and anyone who gets CDC funding, which is potentially millions of dollars,” The Takeaway correspondent Todd Zwillich told PRI.
“Congressional prohibition, which was extended in this very vote that we’re talking about with that appropriations bill, prevents the CDC from advocating for any form of gun control.”
American taxpayers pay roughly $12.8 million every day to cover the costs of gun-related deaths and injuries, according to a report released in April by Mother Jones on the cost of gun violence in America.
CDC data has indicated that guns will kill more Americans under 25 than cars in 2015, The Atlantic reported. More than 25% of teenagers ages 15 and older who die of injuries in the US are killed in gun-related incidents.
As for the ban on gun-violence research, the author of the amendment has said he regrets offering it and thinks it should be repealed.
“Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners, in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile,” former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Arkansas) wrote in a letter released this week.
He added: “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.”
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