Gun Control 101: Why Is Obama Pushing for New Gun Research?

By Grier, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Gun Control 101: Why Is Obama Pushing for New Gun Research?


Grier, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


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 issue:

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 Frederick Rivara.

Generally speaking, gun-rights organizations oppose treating firearms as a public-health issue, as opposed to a constitutional right.

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. …

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