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Docs to US Congress – Lift the ban on gun violence research

January 6, 2016

A Who’s Who of public health and medical organizations, from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, from the American Public Health Association to the Society for Public Health Education, recently called on the US Congress to “lift the current ban on funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) related to gun violence prevention research.” A letter to the US Senate and House Appropriations’ Committee signed by 25 major organizations further urged appropriation of “at least $10 million in FY 2016, along with sufficient new funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to support research into the causes and prevention of gun violence.”

We know that research can help save lives and reduce injuries by providing strategies for a public health approach. A public health approach seeks to identify risk factors so that we can break the chain of violence at the weakest link.

break chainAmong the universal risk factors that are associated with higher rates of armed violence are ready access to firearms.

The public health methods we can use are ones that have been developed and refined in preventing infectious and chronic diseases and injuries including polio and malaria, HIV infection, smallpox, and automobile fatalities in many countries. The letter to Congress cites, for example, that “since the 1950s, a research-based public health approach in the US has translated extensive research into prevention and systems change and contributed to an 80 percent reduction in motor vehicle fatalities per mile driven.”

Significant research investments in gun violence research could help provide a more accurate understanding of the problems associated with it and determine interventions that work.

This type of research seems as American as apple pie, yes?

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that in 1996, “Congress eliminated funding for CDC research on gun violence and accompanied the cut with language barring any research that would ‘advocate or promote gun control.’ The research limitations have also drastically limited the workforce of researchers dedicated to gun violence prevention,” states the letter.

In 2013 President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the CDC to research the causes and prevention of gun violence, but funding was not forthcoming.  And in June of 2015, according to a report in The Hill,  “A GOP-led panel blocked a proposal Wednesday that would have reversed a nearly 20-year-old ban on funding for the CDC to research on gun violence. The House Appropriations Committee voted 32-19 against ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey’s (D-N.Y.) amendment to a bill that would fund health, education and labor programs in the next fiscal year. ‘When it comes to gun violence, my friends, this committee won’t give one dime for the CDC to conduct research on something that is killing Americans by the thousands,’ Lowey said.”

The National Institute of Medicine (IOM) has already offered a plan. In June 2013, the IOM released a report outlining “five key areas for research on this topic: characteristics of firearm violence; risk and protective factors; firearm violence prevention and other interventions; the impact of gun safety technology; and video games and other media.”

It’s time that plan was implemented.

obama on gun violence

As President Obama said yesterday in his speech outlining executive orders to stem the scourge of gun violence, “We know that we can’t stop every act of violence. But what if we tried to stop even one?”

By the numbers:


Number of American victims of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving a gun in the last decade

  • MORE THAN 30,000

Number of gun deaths in America each year

  • MORE THAN 20,000

Number of children under 18 killed by firearms over the last decade

  • MORE THAN 20,000

Number of Americans who commit suicide with a firearm each year

Read the letter to Congress.

For more information, see the Public Health Institute’s, “The Need to Replace ‘Ideology, Intuition and Common Sense’ with a Science-Based Public Health Approach to Gun Violence: A Conversation” and the webinar “Gun violence research and data gathering: getting the facts straight.”



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