Aug 10, 2019 - Health

Mass shootings persist, gun violence research stalls

Reproduced from Stark et al., 2017, "Funding and Publication of Research on Gun Violence and Other Leading Causes of Death"; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Stark et al., 2017, "Funding and Publication of Research on Gun Violence and Other Leading Causes of Death"; Chart: Axios Visuals

A chronic lack of gun violence research and data inaccuracies have hindered change to gun laws in the U.S., multiple scientific reports show.

Why it matters: Scientists and members of Congress have been working to boost gun control research amid persistent mass shootings. Increased funding for research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could help social scientists, law enforcement and policymakers understand the causes of shootings, according to nonprofit news organization The Trace.

Driving the news: The U.S. has already faced 253 mass shootings in 2019. In the wake of the most recent attacks in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans have pressured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring 2 House-passed gun control bills to the Senate floor for a vote.

The backdrop: Federal funding for gun violence research dried up more than 20 years ago.

  • Since 1997, the CDC has had to adhere to the Dickey Amendment, which states none of the federal funds made available to the CDC may be used to “advocate or promote gun control.” Former CDC leaders have stated the agency chose to avoid firearm research, rather than risk political retribution, The Trace reports.
  • Gun violence killed about as many individuals as sepsis between 2004 and 2014, but received only 1.6% of CDC funding, according to an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The big picture: A dearth of research allows misinformation to spread, including from Trump and other Republicans this week when they correlated violent video games with mass shootings and conflated mental illness with gun violence.

"Just as we have developed policies informed by rigorous scientific research to decrease injuries from motor vehicle collisions, we also must embrace the firearm epidemic as a public health emergency. The policies we enact for gun safety must be informed by science, which requires more dedicated federal funding."
— Monika Goyal, lead author in "State Gun Laws and Pediatric Firearm-Related Mortality"

The upside: House Democrats passed an appropriations bill to designate $50 million to the CDC in 2020 for firearm injury and mortality prevention research.

The other side: The Senate has yet to advance the bill. Republicans have argued directing funds toward gun violence is too politicized, The Hill reports. Last year, House Republicans blocked a proposal to grant the CDC $10 million for research.

The bottom line:

"CDC has and continues to support data collection activities and analyses to document the public health burden of firearm injuries in the U.S. CDC would welcome the needed dedicated funding from Congress to move forward in this work."
— a CDC spokesperson tells Axios via email

Go deeper: America's 2 public health problems: Gun violence and mental health

Go deeper