Magazine article Times Higher Education

Turning Point for Gun Control Research?

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Turning Point for Gun Control Research?

Article excerpt

Attempts to get round US gun lobby's blocking of funds could be working. Jon Marcus reports

It's a recurring part of the response to gun violence by congressional opponents to restrictions on guns in the US: there hasn't been enough research by academics and others to know whether such restrictions would actually work.

That's in large part because the same congressional allies of the powerful National Rifle Association have for 20 years choked off the largest source of potential funding for research into gun violence: grants of money from government agencies to study the topic.

Now, in the wake of more mass shootings - including the country's deadliest by a single gunman, the killing of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando last month - that stranglehold may be loosening.

At least one state, California, is independently making $5 million (£3.78 million) available for gun research at its universities, a few foundations and philanthropies are offering funding for it, federal agencies are slipping money for gun studies into broader grants covering studies of violence in general, and a tiny handful of universities are taking on the contentious issue themselves.

The American Medical Association and other influential groups have also thrown their weight behind government funding for gun research to be restored.

"We could be turning a corner," said Sherry Hamby, a research professor at the University of the South and editor of the journal Psychology of Violence. "I think Orlando had an impact."

The ban on federal funding for gun research began in 1996, after a government-funded study by scientists at Emory University and elsewhere concluded that keeping a gun in a home made it more likely that it would be used to kill a family member or acquaintance. The NRA, in response, lobbied Congress to strip the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of precisely the amount that it was spending on studies into guns.

That had the effect of shutting down almost all additional research. So did a congressional order that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control".

After the killing in 2012 of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama used his executive power to direct that the CDC resume studying gun violence. But the Republican-majority Congress controls spending, and Obama's annual request for $10 million for this purpose has been struck from his budget proposal every year.

To quietly get around this, the CDC and other federal agencies have since 2013 added provisions for gun research to be included in related grants for studies into such things as suicide. …

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