WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today led a group of Democratic Senators and renowned national researchers in calling for immediate funding of a gun violence research agenda at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A 1996 Republican appropriations rider prohibits federal funds from being used to advocate or promote gun control, which some have misconstrued as a ban on funding scientific research into the causes of gun violence. The author of the original rider, former Representative Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) now supports funding CDC gun-violence research and has stated that the rider should not stand in the way. Earlier this month, Senators Cardin, Markey and 16 senators called on Appropriations Committee leadership to hold a hearing on funding for gun violence research at the CDC. Senator Markey was joined by Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
“When you have an epidemic, you look for ways to treat and cure the disease,” said Senator Cardin. “Gun violence is an epidemic affecting too many of our communities and inaction by Congress is not an option. Federal funding for public health research into gun violence and gun safety makes common sense. Good work is being done around the nation and Congress needs to make support for this research a priority because the results will save lives.”
A delegation of gun violence researchers joined the lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol today, sharing their stories about conducting research on an issue without access to the kind of federal resources that colleagues who work on cancer, heart disease, AIDS/HIV and other diseases have. One researcher, Dr. Garen Wintemute, reported having invested $1.3 million of his own earnings to conduct his research.
Due to a ban on federal funding for gun violence research that almost halted entirely gun violence research, policymakers, health care practitioners, researchers, and others lack comprehensive, scientific information about the causes and characteristics of gun violence, or the best strategies to prevent future tragedies. President Obama lifted the 17-year ban in 2013, but there is no money appropriated in the federal budget to conduct research at the CDC.
“If we want to stop this wave of gun violence, we need better information about what is causing it and what can be done to prevent it,” said Senator Markey. “Let’s give the medical, scientific and public-health community the resources they need and fund research at the CDC to help end the gun violence scourge.”
“It is absurd, backwards, and dangerous that the CDC is barred from researching the gun violence epidemic that is plaguing our country,” said Senator Schumer. “To tackle this problem that is taking tens of thousands of lives every year, we need to more fully understand it so that we can face it head on. Ending this ban on CDC research is a logical, and necessary, first step.”
“Congressional complicity in the gun violence epidemic is exemplified by its head-in-the-sand ban on research,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Purposeful ignorance about this ongoing public health crisis is inexplicable and inexcusable. Sound science is necessary for evidence-based programs to save lives – not the hear no evil, see no evil approach currently compelled by the ban. This ban has prevented doctors from finding answers to questions like how to prevent a teenager from committing suicide, how to prevent a toddler from accessing a gun, and how to store guns safely and securely. I look forward to working with my colleagues to overturn this ban – a dangerous idea from the very beginning.”
“Gun violence is an undeniable public health epidemic in our country,” said Senator Murphy. “It makes absolutely no sense that Congress has put a gag order on research into the causes and prevention of this violence. Republicans have tied our hands when it comes to having concrete, peer-reviewed evidence for good public policy. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue—even former Representative Jay Dickey, the author of the ban, has publicly said he regrets its unintended consequences. Let’s listen to him, and get out of the business of dictating what the Center for Disease Control should and shouldn’t be researching and back into the business of saving lives.”
“The discussion around gun violence in this country is far too often untethered from the facts,” said Senator Wyden. “This anti-research, anti-knowledge agenda defies common sense. It’s time to approach gun violence like the true public health crisis it is and fund research into gun violence.”
Other researchers participating in the press conference included: Dr. Susan Sorenson, University of Pennsylvania; and Dr. Daniel Webster, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
Garen J. Wintemute, M.D., M.P.H, Director, Violence Prevention Research Program, University of California at Davis
“Policymakers need sound scientific evidence to tackle tough problems. Without research, that evidence won’t be available. We should address firearm violence the same way we address cancer, heart disease, and other major health problems–with a systematic research effort that leads to evidence-based solutions.”
Jeffrey W. Swanson, PhD, MA, Professor, Duke University School of Medicine
“Mass shootings are horrifying, but every single day in our country more than 90 people die as the result of a gunshot. We need an investment in research to match the size and complexity of the problem.”
April Zeoli, PhD, M.P.H., Associate Professor, Michigan State University
“With rigorous study, researchers can provide the evidence needed to implement impactful policies and programs to reduce gun violence. When we studied motor vehicle deaths, we learned the importance of seat belts, and later seat belt laws save thousands. We need to bring the same scope of research to gun violence.”