CDC Will Be Able To Conduct Gun Research for First Time in 17 Years

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 16 2013 1:47 PM

CDC Will Now Be Free To Research Gun Violence for First Time in 17 Years

U.S. President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders about the administration's new gun law proposals as children who wrote letters to the White House about gun violence (from left) Hinna Zeejah, Taejah Goode, Julia Stokes, and Grant Fritz, look on, Jan. 16, 2013
U.S. President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders about the administration's new gun law proposals as children who wrote letters to the White House about gun violence (from left) Hinna Zeejah, Taejah Goode, Julia Stokes, and Grant Fritz, look on, Jan. 16, 2013

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

NBC News flags one of the 23 executive actions taken by President Obama this afternoon as part of his push for stricter gun control in the United States: In short, the president has effectively lifted what has been a virtual 17-year ban on basic research into the public health effects of gun violence. But while the CDC will have the freedom to resume work on that topic, it's still unclear whether it will have the funding to do so.

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Here's the relevant part from the White House fact sheet, under action No. 14, titled clearly as "Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence":

Conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence: The President is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and scientific agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. It is based on legal analysis that concludes such research is not prohibited by any appropriations language. The CDC will start immediately by assessing existing strategies for preventing gun violence and identifying the most pressing research questions, with the greatest potential public health impact. And the Administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.
Better understand how and when firearms are used in violent death: To research gun violence prevention, we also need better data. When firearms are used in homicides or suicides, the National Violent Death Reporting System collects anonymous data, including the type of firearm used, whether the firearm was stored loaded or locked, and details on youth gun access. Congress should invest an additional $20 million to expand this system from the 18 states currently participating to all 50 states, helping Americans better understand how and when firearms are used in a violent death and informing future research and prevention strategies.

As you can see in that first graph, Obama is asking Congress to pony up $10 million to fund said research. While it's unclear whether lawmakers will give him the cash he wants, regardless it appears as though those at the CDC will have the freedom to examine something that they've turned something of a blind eye to since 1996. NBC explains the back story:

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the CDC conducted original, peer-reviewed research into gun violence, including questions such as whether people who had guns in their homes gained protection from the weapons. (The answer, researchers found, was no. Homes with guns had a nearly three times greater risk of homicide and a nearly five times greater risk of suicide than those without, according to a 1993 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.)
But in 1996, the NRA, with the help of Congressional leaders, moved to suppress such information and to block future federal research into gun violence, [Dr. Mark Rosenberg, president of the Task Force for Global Health and director of the CDC's Center for Injury Prevention and Control from 1994 to 1999] said.

The statute that governs the agency's funding stipulates that none of its federal funding can be used "to advocate or promote gun control." While that never specifically blocked research into gun violence, the language was broad enough to give CDC officials pause and serve as a deterrent to inquisitive researchers. [Paul D. Thacker, a former Senate investigator, wrote about the NRA's campaign to shut down studies at the CDC in a piece for Slate back in December. You can read that here.]

"CDC overreacted to that statement and became more reluctant to fund anything dealing with guns, even the traditional epidemiological research, so there was a chilling effect," Stephen Teret, director for the Center for Law and the Public’s Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explained to NBC.

Obama's executive order, however, should bring an end to those fears. "[R]esearch on gun violence is not advocacy; it is critical public health research that gives all Americans information they need," reads the White House fact sheet.

For more, check out the full piece at NBC.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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