Gun Violence Research Could Be Funded by Congress for First Time in Two Decades

December 17, 2019by Paul Cobler
An AR-15 rifle with an attached silencer lies on the floor at a gun range at the NRA headquarters, in Fairfax, Va., on March 20, 2017. Many organizations across the country are considering the social implications of investment portfolios, and some are divesting from the firearms industry. (Ali Rizvi/McClatchy/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators agreed to spend $25 million to study gun violence in America next year, the first time in more than two decades that federal funds will be dedicated to researching the contentious issue.

The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would share the funding equally. The money is included in a spending bill that would avert a government shutdown Friday night. The bill still needs approval from the House and Senate, and a signature from President Donald Trump.

The money is only half of the $50 million Democrats sought for, but Rep. Rosa Delauro, D-Conn., chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, hailed the agreement as a “major step” toward preventing gun violence.

“The epidemic of gun violence is a public health emergency,” she said in announcing the funding. “Yet, for more than two decades, Congress has failed to provide any meaningful reforms. The funding for evidence-based research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health will help us better understand the correlation between domestic violence and gun violence, how Americans can more safely store guns, and how we can intervene to reduce suicide by firearms.”

The appropriation ends a long ban on federal funding for gun violence research that started in 1996 with legislation known as the Dickey Amendment. The amendment blocked federal agencies from advocating for gun control and while it didn’t explicitly ban public health research, it created a chilling effect that halted all federally-funded research on the issue.

Last year, while Republicans still controlled the House, Democrats were able to clarify in a spending bill that there was no ban on federal studies of gun violence. But no money had been authorized until now.

The end of the two-decade funding drought comes after a rash of mass shootings that energized gun control advocates across the country. DeLauro pointed out that the funding was secured one day after the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead.

“For far too long, the United States Congress put the political agenda of the gun lobby over our nation’s public health and safety,” said former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who retired from the House after being shot in the head during an attack in 2011.

Six people died, including a federal judge, when a gunman interrupted a congressional meet-and-greet in the parking lot of a supermarket.

“But today, with outraged Americans demanding solutions to gun violence and a new gun safety majority elected to the House of Representatives, change is happening,” Giffords said.

Texas has been hit particularly hard by mass shootings in recent years.

In November 2017, 26 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs. Six months later, 10 people were killed when a former student opened fire at Santa Fe High School near Houston. Last August, a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, and seven people were killed in a separate shooting spree in Odessa and Midland.

The spending bill also includes language that would raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21, provide funding for the border wall, and for various other programs.

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©2019 The Dallas Morning News

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