This week President Obama outlined a sweeping package of proposed
changes to Americas gun laws, including a federal ban on the
manufacture and sale of new assault weapons and an expansion of
background checks on firearm purchasers. But proponents of gun
control say one of the most important pieces of the plan may be a
smaller, less-noticed move: Mr. Obamas attempt to end a 15-year ban
on federal research into guns and violence.
For years, some members of Congress have effectively blocked the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal
agencies from conducting such research due to concerns about pro-
gun control bias. On Wednesday, Obama said hed use the powers of the
presidency to change that situation.
While year after year those who oppose even modest gun safety
measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research
into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for
Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it....
We dont benefit from ignorance, said Obama.
Here are some basic questions and answers about the research
What's stopping the government from studying guns and violence?
In 1996 some conservative members of Congress mounted an effort
to eliminate the CDCs National Center for Injury Prevention and
Control because they believed some researchers were cheerleaders for
the anti-gun movement. In the end, they took the $2.6 million this
center had spent on gun research the previous year, and earmarked it
for brain-injury research. In addition, Congress added language to
the CDC appropriation saying 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.
Its unclear exactly what sorts of things this phrase prohibits.
But no federal employee was willing to risk their career to find
out, according to a December Journal of the American Medical
Association article. Several years later, Congress made the language
applicable to the Department of Health and Human Services, as well.
Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDCs
website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-
related violence, says the article by Arthur Kellermann and
Generally speaking, gun-rights organizations oppose treating
firearms as a public-health issue, as opposed to a constitutional
What don't we know?
This congressional prohibition did not end the study of guns in
America, of course. The federal government does not fund all of the
nations social research. In addition, the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, and Firearms, as well as the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, continue to estimate statistics such as the
percentage of homicides committed with firearms.
What are missing are more expansive studies, according to a
recent Congressional Research Service report. …