Congress Recently Renewed A Blanket Ban On Letting CDC Scientists Study Gun Violence

There are a lot of unknowns on how best to prevent gun violence and what the causes might be, and lawmakers who caucus with the NRA would like to keep it that way. In fact, the goal seems to be to intentionally keep the country as ignorant to solutions as possible, lest they wise up to how toxic America’s gun problem really is.

To that end, lawmakers took time this summer to renew their long-standing ban on allowing scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look at the relationship between gun ownership and the violence firearms cause. The ban also stipulates that regardless of the data, no CDC scientist is allowed to advocate for any form of gun control – even if they find that it saves lives. Needless to say, the NRA was instrumental in handcrafting the ban in the first place, and keeping it on the books can score a congressperson major points (and lots of campaign money) with the gun rights group.

To justify the ban, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) used a line he probably read on a bumper sticker:

“I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”

Most health experts, including the Surgeon General, disagree. There is simply no denying that guns are enormously destructive and cost the lives of tens of thousands of Americans every year. And like other health risks, there are real solutions that could be enacted if lawmakers were willing to buck the gun lobby in order to save lives. If scientists hope to find ways to prevent needless deaths, focusing on gun violence would be a huge first step.

Instead, Congress has repeatedly made the nonsensical claim that the empirical study of gun violence is part of a liberal bias. The logic – if we can call it that – being that because Republicans have made gun fetishism a plank in their party’s platform, any findings that would make guns look bad is inherently anti-Republican. So scientists are left sitting on their hands and America continues to ask “Why?” after every mass shooting.

We would be a lot closer to answers if there weren’t people deliberately trying to suppress research into guns. In the 1990s, when violent crime was at record highs and the nation was looking for answers, scientists did study guns. In particular there was Dr. Fred Rivara, a professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology, who had spent decades cataloging and examining data about gun violence. His research was vital, and therefore a major threat to the interests of the NRA. Through aggressive lobbying, the gun organization destroyed Rivara’s funding and that of others as well. As Rivara’s colleague, Arthur Kellermann explained in 2013:

The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997. But in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year.

Rivara’s plight has served as a lesson to other would-be researchers. Since then, almost no scientist has risked studying guns and face the ire of the NRA. (Outside organizations, like a research lab at Harvard, have found – surprise – that gun control really does appear to reduce gun deaths.)

So when conservative lawmakers lament the fact that there just aren’t any answers for what to do about gun violence, they are overlooking their own active involvement in keeping things that way. As shooting victims are added to America’s shameful tally each day, that’s no small act of evil.

Feature image via Pixabay