In the wake of the shootings in Tucson, the familiar questions inevitably resurfaced: Are communities where more people carry guns safer or less safe? Does the availability of high-capacity magazines increase deaths? Do more rigorous background checks make a difference?
The reality is that even these and other basic questions cannot be fully answered, because not enough research has been done. And there is a reason for that. Scientists in the field and former officials with the government agency that used to finance the great bulk of this research say the influence of the National Rife Association has all but choked off money for such work.
“We’ve been stopped from answering the basic questions,” said Mark Rosenberg, former director of the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was for about a decade the leading source of financing for firearms research.
The CDC has hesitated in acting on that directive, both because of its limited resources and, gun control advocates suspect, a fear of political backlash. Indeed, The New York Times reported that as a courtesy, the center flags for the NRA any study that has anything to do with firearms.
The NIH, however, appears to be less intimidated. Wintemute received a two-year grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2013, worth $700,000, to study alcohol abuse as a risk factor among people who legally purchase firearms. He now is conducting a 100,000-person study in California.
"Compared to five years ago, the funding picture for a few of us who have done this work for a long time is rosy," Wintemute said. "Compared to what it requires, it is still bleak. We have lost 20 years of concentrated effort."
We write with increasing urgency about our nation’s approach to gun violence. In the wake of a seemingly endless string of mass shootings, Americans from diverse backgrounds and differing political beliefs have demanded that their elected leaders take action to keep our neighborhoods and communities safe. … Although Members of Congress may disagree about how best to respond to this problem, we should all be able to agree that our response should be informed by sound scientific evidence. That is why we are calling on you to take one simple step to help reduce the possibility of future tragedies like those in Roseburg, Charleston, Newtown, Aurora, and countless other American communities: lift the prohibition on federally funded research on gun violence in any final fiscal year 2016 appropriations legislation.