Democrats in the House and Senate are proposing that the government spend $60 million to fund research into the causes of gun violence, and the best way to curb that violence.
Legislation they introduced Wednesday would authorize $10 million a year for the next six years to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which would study gun violence prevention and firearms safety.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said it makes sense for the CDC to study the issue as a public health issue.
“It is time we study the issue of gun violence like the public health crisis it is,” Markey said. “If we want to prevent injury and deaths from guns, we need to know what can be done to prevent it.”
The bill could re-open the debate over whether and how the government can study gun violence.
Funding for gun research at the CDC fell dramatically in the mid-1990s, after Congress imposed a broad ban on most of that research. The National Rifle Association, which helped create that ban, has said it can support unbiased research, but that it opposes “junk” science that is politically aimed at justifying bans on gun ownership.
“[B]ack in the 1980s, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) decided guns were a ‘public health’ issue and began funding more and more research on guns and gun control,” the NRA wrote in 2010. “Some of what was produced was valuable social science, but a great deal was ‘junk’ science, patently designed to create prohibitionist talking points.”
Since the ban, research funding at the CDC has fallen to about $100,000 per year. In early 2013, President Barack Obama lifted the ban on gun research at the CDC, and Obama has also proposed a $10 million annual research budget. The bill from Markey and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) in the House tries to implement that proposal.
Maloney (D-N.Y.) said politics is preventing the government from studying the issue. She said the government should be able to study gun violence the way it studies car fatalities, and then take steps to reduce violent incidents.
“In the past 20 years, even as our population has grown – car fatalities have decreased by 36 percent because our cars and highways are safer as a result of research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” she said. “Sen. Markey and I want to apply the same strategy to gun violence.”
Their bill is supported by several groups, including the Brady Campaign, which blamed the “corporate gun lobby” for blocking studies on gun violence.
“Research is essential to better understanding the problem and what we can do to prevent it,” the group said. “Yet the corporate gun lobby and the politicians who do their bidding have blocked every attempt to do more research.”
Some Republicans have suggested that Congress might be able to consider legislation aimed at ensuring that mentally ill people do not have access to guns. But the American Psychological Association, which supports the Markey-Maloney bill, said its own research shows that mentally ill people are responsible for just a small proportion of gun incidents.
Still, the group said the CDC should be able to study the psychological causes of gun violence. “The problem requires careful study and analysis of the psychological factors, behavioral pathways, social circumstances, and cultural factors that lead to gun violence,” it said.