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Science Careers Blog

December 20, 2012

NRA-Inspired, Congressionally Enacted, Funding Ban Stymies Gun Safety Research

In the wake of the Connecticut elementary school massacre, scientists in a number of disciplines are probably wondering how they can put their expertise to work finding ways to prevent such horrors from happening again. But it appears they shouldn't look to the federal government for help funding any firearm-injury-related research. That's because "in the 1990s, politicians backed by the NRA [National Rifle Association] attacked researchers for publishing data on firearms research," reports Slate"For good measure, they also went after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for funding the research."

"From 1986 to 1996, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sponsored high-quality, peer reviewed research into the underlying causes of gun violence," wrote Jay Dickey, a former Arkansas Republican congressman and NRA spokesperson, and co-author Mark Rosenberg in the Washington Post in July 2012. Findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, disproved the gun lobby's orthodoxy about supposed safety benefits of gun ownership.

As a result, "the National Rifle Association moved to suppress the dissemination of these results and to block future research into the causes of gun injuries. ... In 1996, an amendment to an appropriations bill  [placed there by Dickey] ... removed $2.6 million from the CDC's budget, the amount the agency's injury center had spent on firearms research in the previous year. This amendment, together with a stipulation that 'None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control' sent a chilling message."

"Since that legislation in 1996, the United States has spent about $240 million a year on traffic safety research, but there has been almost no publicly funded research on firearm injuries," Dickey and Rosenberg add.

Dickey has since changed his views and no longer supports squelching science. In fact, he now believes that "scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearms injuries" and can "help reduce the toll of death and injuries from gun violence." Federally funded research has, of course, greatly increased safety on the highways and in many other realms of life.

Clearly, it's way past time to bring science's power to bear on our nation's horrendous problems with gun violence. That means it's time to break the gun lobby's disgraceful grip on both our politics and our science.
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