Restrictions on Gun Violence Research Are on the White House's Radar

January 15, 2013 | 1:38 pm
Michael Halpern
Former Contributor

Since I last wrote about the need to end federal restrictions on gun violence research, the chorus calling for such a move has become larger and significantly louder.

More than one hundred researchers in crime, medicine, public health, economics and public policy wrote the White House Gun Violence Commission on January 10. In addition to asking for an end to restrictions on research, the letter calls for the federal government to invest in “unbiased scientific research and data infrastructure.”

On this second point, the researchers call out the almost complete absence of gun violence research at NIH and compares it to research on other issues (sources for these statistics can be found in the researchers’ letter):

Major NIH research awards and cumulative morbidity for select conditions in the US, 1973-2012

Condition Total cases NIH research awards
Cholera 400 212
Diphtheria 1337 56
Polio 266 129
Rabies 65 89
Total of four diseases 2068 486

Firearm injuries




In a speech yesterday at the Johns Hopkins Gun Policy Summit, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg called out this disparity in a different way:

“The National Institutes of Health is estimated to spend less than $1 million on firearms injury research – out of an annual budget of $31 billion. To put that in perspective, NIH spends $21 million annually researching headaches. But it spends less than $1 million on all the gun deaths that happen every year. If that doesn’t give you a headache, it should.”

Mayor Bloomberg released a new report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns about efforts to suppress data and research funding on gun violence. Notably, the report addresses the Tiahrt Amendments, which limited data collection on firearms purchasers, making it more difficult for law enforcement to identify sources of gun crimes or identify “straw purchasers” (individuals who buy guns legally and pass them on to criminals).

Also yesterday, in response to a question I posed at an event at the Center for American Progress, both Representative Mike Thompson (who leads the congressional Gun Violence Task Force) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel (who is active with Mayors Against Illegal Guns) expressed support for removing the research restrictions. More reporters are starting to pick up on this issue.

On Thursday of last week, Vice President Joe Biden indicated publicly that lifting the funding restrictions was on the radar screen of the Gun Violence Commission. Let’s hope it stays there. It’s clear that both Congress and the executive branch should do all they can to allow independent research related to gun violence to move forward.