Such is the stranglehold that the NRA has over Congress that not only can we not do anything about the rash of mass shootings
we’ve seen this year—294 in the first 274 days of 2015, with some 380 dead—or the spiking gun violence plaguing major American cities
, we can’t even do research on them.
In 1996, two years after Republicans had taken Congress in part by ominously warning people that President Clinton was coming for their guns, a congressman from Arkansas named Jay Dickey pushed through an amendment essentially forbidding any federal funds from going toward gun research, under the theory that gun research leads to gun regulation, and we just can’t have that. This was, in fact, a fallback measure: House Republicans originally the CDC’s National Center for Injury Protection. After that failed, Dickey introduced language that stripped the CDC’s funding on gun research and prevented it from ever promoting any form of gun control. That amendment has been the law of the land ever since.
As The New York Times reported in 2011
, after the Tucson mass shooting:
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.
Even after Newtown, when President Obama instructed federal agencies to interpret the Dickey amendment literally—no money for the promotion of gun control, but research is OK—the CDC hasn’t changed course. As the Huffington Post explains
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."
Dickey, now retired, told the Huffington Post earlier this month that he’d made a mistake
. “I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time," he said. “I have regrets.”
Dickey may have changed his mind, but the conservatives who control Congress haven’t. Even as reports of mass shootings
—Roseburg, Charleston, Minneapolis, so many more—proliferated, the NRA and its lawmaking acolytes dug in, shutting off any conversation about not just handgun control but even the anodyne, widely popular universal background checks. And, of course, the ban on research is still in place.
Some congressional Democrats, led by David Price of Durham, are trying to change that. Wednesday morning, they’ll be releasing a letter with 110 signatures—all Dems, no Republicans—calling for a restoration of gun-violence-research funding. Per the letter:
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.
Read the whole thing below, and we’ll update this story as it develops—or rather, if it develops. Given that Republicans are already being dragged kicking and screaming into signing off on a budget/debt ceiling deal
, it seems highly unlikely that incoming Speaker Paul Ryan will want to further arouse his base.
FINAL Signed Gun Violence Research Letter