US Congress agrees to fund gun control research for the first time in decades

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For the first time in more than 20 years, the US Congress has agreed to fund gun violence research.

As part of the deal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health will receive $12.5 million each to study gun violence and recommend ways to reduce it.

It’s about time that Congress stepped up and did something about gun violence, one of the top public health problems in the nation. In fact, if you’re living in an urban area and African American, it’s probably the number one public health problem you’re going to face.

In 1996, Congress passed the so-called Dickey amendment — named after former Sen. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) — blocking agencies from distributing funds to research gun control. While the amendment did not ban gun control research, that was the effect at the federal level.

Since then, huge federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose annual budget is over seven billion dollars, could not completely fulfill its mandate to save lives. Instead, the public has had to rely on studies made by universities and independent agencies which performed surveys on their own dime. 

Such studies show that the US suffers mass shootings at more than 11 times the rate of any other developed country. More than 30,000 Americans are killed by guns each year, and more than 100,000 are shot every year, according to a different study published in the journal Health Affairs. Another study found that Americans were “25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries.”

“Gun violence is a public health emergency. After years of obstruction from Republicans and the [National Rifle Association] … I secured a historic $25 million investment for gun violence prevention research,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “With this investment, the best public health researchers in the country will be put to work to identify ways to reduce injury and death due to firearms.”

During last year’s spending agreement, Democrats clarified in spending bills that the amendment does not stop agencies from studying gun violence, but the CDC still said it required dedicated funds to actually get to work. Democrats in Congress have tried to end the Dickey amendment, but it seems like they’ve decided to shift strategy, pushing for $25 million in funding for gun violence research.

After years of constant mass shootings in schools, churches, and other public spaces, this initiative couldn’t be more welcome. The announcement was made during the seventh anniversary of the gruesome Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which saw 20 children and 6 adults killed.

“This is a major step forward to helping reduce the pain and suffering families endure every day due to the scourge of gun violence,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who helped secure the funding.

Hopefully, this is just a small step in a series of improvements around the gun violence discussion, which should be treated as a public health crisis — what else could you call it when thousands of Americans are killed every year?

The gun violence research funding is part of a $1.3 trillion federal spending deal that is expected to pass later this week before Friday’s government shutdown deadline.

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