In 1996, Congress passed the “Dickey Amendment,” which banned Centers for Disease Control scientists from using congressional money to advocate for gun control. On paper, this is a reasonable limit – but in practice, the Dickey Amendment has been used to stop the CDC from researching gun violence at all. However, Reopening research into gun violence would be a good first step for Congressional lawmakers.
After the Dickey Amendment, NPR reported, research into gun violence dropped by 90 percent. NPR interviewed a former CDC researcher, Mark Rosenberg, who explained that it was implied to researchers that if they researched gun violence at all, they would be told that they were violating the spirit of the Dickey Amendment and may lose funding. This is a problem – the Huffington post has reported that multi-year studies are expensive, and that’s the information we need. People can’t do these large studies on their own.
This means that there’s almost no national data on the psychological effects of gun violence, the health of long-term gun violence survivors or unsafe gun practices. There is no national data on how many shootings are stopped by a ‘good guy with a gun,’ although the NRA would like you to believe that’s every legal gun owner. There is no data on how many people convicted of domestic violence purchase, or still have, a gun. We’re in the dark.
The result, then, is that we are trying to conduct a debate about gun control without having the research we need.
Instead of researching potential fixes to gun violence – which could include restricting gun access to those who have been convicted of domestic violence, as well as mental health initiatives – and using data, people have to rely on emotions. This also leads to those who support gun control being criticized for using data that comes from gun control non-profits – because there’s almost no research otherwise.
As your friendly neighborhood liberal, let me tell you that I would love to have CDC data on gun violence. It would enable us to have a real conversation about guns. It would also give gun control advocates access to hard data on what measures cause changes in gun deaths.
There’s hope for gun research: Congress passed a spending bill that would effectively un-muzzle CDC gun researchers and allow us to have access to this information. After the Parkland, Fla. shooting and the March for Our Lives Protests, this would be a good first step.
But it’s just that – a first step. Congress has to take action on gun control, and this research would help them start to do that.