Just three days before the March for Our Lives, Congress has opened the door for federal research into gun violence to resume. In a spending bill to provide funding for the federal government through the rest of the fiscal year, Congress has clarified that the CDC is able to pursue research to help stop gun violence.
Legislative language in place since 1996 has effectively prevented CDC and NIH researchers from exploring questions that would help us make more informed decisions about ways to reduce gun-related suicides, domestic abuse, and yes, mass murder (see the National Academies’ list of research priorities here). CDC scientists and public health advocates have been pleading for years for the ban to be lifted. The original sponsor of the amendment, the late Republican Congressman Jay Dickey, also fought the ban in recent years.
After the Parkland killings, both Republicans and Democrats publicly recognized the need to lift the research ban. In particular, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the department will be “proactive” on gun violence research.
He will need to be. After the Sandy Hook massacre, President Obama directed the CDC and NIH to resume research through an executive order. Yet with the Dickey Amendment still in place, nothing happened.
Although the Dickey Amendment will remain in place, we are now a step closer to lifting the federal ban on gun research as lawmakers have acknowledged that federal scientists can and should investigate this public health crisis. Congress’ next move is to provide dedicated funding for this research. In the meantime, Secretary Azar should ensure that the next CDC director commits fully and expediently to developing and implementing a research agenda that helps our country address gun violence.
Setting everything aside—the failure to provide a solution for Dreamers, the fact that most members of Congress won’t have time to read the bill before voting on it, and the inclusion of a select few anti-science poison pill riders—at least there’s something to celebrate.