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March 30, 2018

Congress: CDC Gun Studies That Never Stopped Can Continue


By Larry Keane

Tucked away in the 2,232 pages of the federal spending bill recently signed by President Donald Trump was a section that had gun control activists claiming they found the cure to the problem of gun violence. Funding for the Centers for Disease Control was increased and a phrase included that had opponents of gun rights cheering.

“While appropriations language prohibits the CDC and other agencies from using appropriated funding to advocate or promote gun control, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has stated the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence.”

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was so excited he immediately sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar that “it appears that the CDC is in an ideal position to begin research on this public health crisis.”

Studies Never Stopped

Except, the senator’s diagnosis is wrong. The CDC was never barred from any such research. In fact, the CDC has studied guns and suicide, noise and lead exposure at ranges, firearm violence prevention in Wilmington, Del., and issued a report on firearms homicides and suicides in metropolitan areas. That doesn’t include a bevy of FBI, Department of Justice and Congressional studies.

So, why do Sen. Markey and those who oppose gun ownership complain? It might be because of statements like this:

“We’re going to systematically build a case that owning firearms causes deaths. We’re doing the most we can do, given the political realities.” P.W. O’Carroll, Acting Section Head of Division of Injury Control, CDC

Tough Pill to Swallow

Congress took action after a 1993 CDC-funded study took an advocacy position linking gun ownership in the home to increased risk of death by a family member or friend. In 1996, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment, named for the sponsor, Congressman Jay Dickey (R-Ark.). The amendment states, “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.”

To underscore their seriousness, Congress that same year slashed the CDC’s budget by $2.6 million, the same amount that was previously spent to advocate against guns. Critics argue that even if the language didn’t outright ban it, it has had a “chilling” effect on research. Or maybe it just exposed the bias in the study.

It couldn’t have been that chilling, though. In 2013, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order directing $10 million in “gun violence” research. The CDC spent the money and published the results. Only now, it didn’t advocate pre-drawn conclusions. In fact, the results were disappointing for gun control proponents.

First, Do No Harm

So, just to be clear, Congress addressed the issue, stating the “CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence.”

Also included is a one-sentence phrase that keeps in place restrictions on advocating for gun restrictions in the name of health policy. “None of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.”

The CDC did get a boost in funding, to the tune of $1.8 billion, bringing its budget to $8.3 billion. That includes $649 million for “Injury Prevention and Control activities” for the CDC’s Office of Public Health Scientific Services.

So the money is there. And the ability has always been there. Critics need to decide if they want studies that produce meaningful data, or if they only want to spend taxpayer dollars that advocate restrictions on gun ownership rights.

It should be noted Secretary Azar testified before Congress that he understood the CDC could study gun violence. “So my understanding is that the rider does not in any way impede our ability to conduct our research mission,” Azar said. “It is simply about advocacy.”

You may also be interested in: Another Reminder: Gun Control Doesn’t Prevent Crime