Why Is Gun Violence Research so Rare?

Whether it's the shooting at Sandy Hook, at Virginia Tech, in Las Vegas, or the countless other mass shootings that happen every day in the United States, it seems like everyone has a solution. More guns. Fewer guns. Better mental health care. Restrictions on automatic weapons. The elephant in the room during each of these debates is that we don't actually know what would stop mass shootings. That's because U.S. legislation has effectively made it illegal to fund research into gun violence.

Between A Glock And A Hard Place

In 1996, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment, a piece of legislation named after Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Arkansas) which said that no funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "may be used to advocate or promote gun control."

That language didn't actually ban research into gun violence on the whole, but it effectively ended it. (It helped that the legislation came with a budget cut of the exact amount that the CDC had spent on gun research the year before.) From that year through 2013, CDC funding for gun research dropped by 96 percent.

But the CDC isn't the only place with money to fund research. What about the National Institutes of Health (NIH)? In 2011, Congress added similar rules to an NIH funding bill. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, President Obama ordered the NIH to start funding gun research again anyway, but that program expired in 2017, and there are no signs that it will be renewed.

There isn't enough funding from private entities to make for large, well-designed studies. And political will is lacking, given the passionate debate on both sides of the issue. States could intervene, and in 2016 California did announce it would fund gun-violence research, but so far it's the only one to do so. Without federal funds, the research will most likely remain stalled.

But Why?

According to its champion, the Dickey Amendment was just meant to prevent bias in gun-violence research, not stop its funding altogether. "It turned out that that's what happened, but it wasn't aimed at that," former Rep. Jay Dickey told NPR in 2015, admitting he has regrets about the amendment.

Dickey himself pointed out how life-saving gun-violence research could be. The federal highway program, he noted, funded research into how to cut down on traffic deaths. Their result came in the form of the small concrete barricades that are now commonplace on highways across the nation. "Enormous reduction of head-on collisions has been caused just by that little 2-and-a-half, 3-foot fence," Dickey said. "We could do the same in the gun industry."

But without that research, a science-based solution may remain elusive.

Why The Government Stops Gun Violence Research

Written by Ashley Hamer November 29, 2017

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