The Government Won't Fund Research on Gun Violence Because of NRA Lobbying

A man with an assault rifle attends a demonstration at Gettysburg National Military Park. Mark Makela / Getty

A 22-year-old rule is still stimying government funding for research on gun violence. As mass shootings, like the one that took place Sunday in Las Vegas, continue to kill and injure, article after article cites a gap in gun violence research as a roadblock to any progress on gun policy. This gap dates back to a 1996 appropriations bill, known as the Dickey Amendment. The amendment declared that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control."

While the rule itself does not directly block research on gun violence, it was signed into law along with an earmark that drained money from CDC programs to study gun violence. The $2.6 million in funding originally intended for the program was redirected elsewhere. Since then, the amendment has created a strong chilling effect in the way funding is distributed as well as a lost generation of researchers who study gun violence, Boston University's Sandro Galea told Newsweek.

In academia, where funding shapes careers, relatively few researchers are willing to stake theirs on studying the issue. As Garen Wintemute, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, told The Atlantic, "I've received death threats. It kind of comes with the territory."

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, Former President Barack Obama did call for the CDC to study gun violence. The effects of that order have been minimal. This past month, the NIH also took steps to close its dedicated gun violence research program.

The government is not the only source of funding for gun research. Private companies and academic centers also fund research into gun violence. Still, as a statement released by House Democrats after the San Bernardino shooting in California lays out, "We dedicate $240 million a year on traffic safety research, more than $233 million a year on food safety and $331 million a year on the effects of tobacco, but almost nothing on firearms that kill 33,000 Americans annually."

Questions remain about the extent to which research could truly inform policy. Calls for CDC funding on gun violence research also operate on the assumption that policy is formed by fact and that commonsense gun policy means the same thing for everyone. Neither is necessarily true. But, as Galea says, this kind of research could help create policies that would respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners, which may make it more politically palatable.

When the gag rule is brought up in the news, media coverage often returns to the same rhetorical point: that, in light of whichever mass shooting has happened most recently—a year ago it was Orlando, and before that, Sandy Hook—politicians and researchers should step up.

Today, it is Las Vegas.