A recent article in JAMA pointed out the lack of CDC funding for gun control research. Even though I consider myself to be fairly well informed about issues dealing with health, I was not aware of the legislative details about funding for such an important issue. So I thought I would summarize the article and share it in my newsletter…
The CDC hasn’t funded research on gun violence prevention for two decades-ever since Congress included three lines named the Dickey Amendment in an appropriation act passed in 1997. It stated, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Apparently, the amendment was included in response to a CDC funded study that concluded that having a gun in the home was associated with a higher risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance. (Of course it does!)
Not all agencies have the same strict interpretation to this kind of research… the NIH awarded $850,000 in 2013 to study whether gun owners with a history of alcohol and drug convictions are more likely to commit violence than gun owners without such a criminal history. (I can’t help it… It is a paltry sum and what do you think the conclusion will be?) At least the NIH seems less concerned about retaliation by pro-gun members of Congress. Their physical year budget is 32.3 billion compared with the CDC’s 11.8 billion (almost a third of which is earmarked for the mandatory programs such as vaccines for children). The CDC is also funded differently than the NIH. They have a line item budget whereas the NIH has more latitude in deciding what it wants to study. “The leaders of the CDC are scared to take on gun violence research because it’s so politically controversial” said Mark Rosenberg, M.D., a 20 year CDC veteran who says he was fired as director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in 1999 because of his commitment to studying gun violence prevention.
Interestingly, Dickey, who left Congress in 2000 says he regrets his amendment’s unintended effect on gun violence research. On December 25th, 2015 he and Rosenberg co-authored an op-ed piece in the Washington post on how to protect gun rights while reducing the toll of gun violence. They stated that “both of us now believe strongly that federal funding for research into gun violence prevention should be dramatically increased.”
Our president thinks likewise. In January 2013, Obama ordered that the secretary of Health and Human Services through the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it. And yet the Dickey amendment remains in the yearly budget bill and Congress still hasn’t earmarked any money for gun violence research at the CDC.
Here in California a bill has been introduced that would establish a firearm violence research center at the University of California. Senator Dianne Feinstein has stated “I hope my colleagues in Congress will find the courage to follow California’s lead and permit federal funding for gun violence research.” People are dying as result of firearms at the rate of 90 a day. Gun violence is disease… It behooves the CDC to help assess its epidemiology, etiology, pathophysiology and modes of prevention.