As part of the bipartisan government spending bill that won final congressional approval with Thursday’s votes in the Senate, $25 million will be provided for gun-violence research, divided between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. Compared with what is spent for research into other causes of death and injury, it isn’t much, but it’s the first time in two decades Congress has allocated funding for the issue. That makes the vote a major victory for gun-safety advocates and researchers who have long pressed to study gun violence with the same scientific rigor that has brought advances in treating cancer and reducing traffic fatalities.
Fledgling federal efforts to study gun violence and prevention were snuffed out in 1996 when the National Rifle Association, threatened by scientific findings that undermined its agenda, used its clout to enact legislation barring the CDC from using funds “to advocate or promote gun control.” The Dickey Amendment was named after Rep. Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican who promoted the amendment but later renounced it and campaigned against it until his death in 2017. It didn’t literally bar federal research, but the CDC understood it as a warning to abandon its efforts. “Imagine if we had never done any research on cancer and people were dying from it in large numbers. . . . Well, that’s what happened with gun research,” said Mark Rosenberg, former director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Dr. Rosenberg, who clashed with Mr. Dickey but then became a friend and ally in campaigning for gun research, warned that there will be no instantaneous magical solution. Progress, he told us, will come in increments as data is collected and studied and understood in a collaborative way that still protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
More than 35,000 Americans are killed by guns every year in homicides, suicides and accidents. There’s no way to know how many lives might have been saved if this issue had been treated like other major public-health crises. Certainly it is long past time to stop accepting mass shootings, toddlers shooting themselves and other gun violence as inevitable. The $25 million is a good start.