The Seven Senators Who Fought for Gun Violence Research During the Filibuster

June 16, 2016 | 12:49 pm
Yogin Kothari
Former Contributor

Yesterday, something remarkable happened in the United States Senate. Senator Chris Murphy (CT) led a filibuster on gun violence for nearly 15 hours. His goal? Get a vote on two gun safety measures. And in the process, he helped shine a light on an incredibly misguided ban on federal gun violence research that has been in place for twenty years.

End the ban

During the marathon, he was joined (relieved) by more than 40 senators, who made really long statements in the form of questions (as this filibuster guide explains, senators interrupting can say just about anything, as long as what they say is in the form of a question). And in these statements/questions, numerous senators spoke out in favor of lifting the research ban.

The senators’ statements came just a day after the American Medical Association called gun violence “a public health crisis,” resolving to actively lobby Congress to allow research to resume.

Here are the senators that want to bring back gun-related research and these are their words.

Senator Edward Markey (MA):  I ask another question: Wouldn’t it be easier to develop effective solutions to gun violence in America if our Nation’s top researchers could actually do research on gun violence? We are facing an epidemic of gun violence. More than 33,000 people are dying in our country each year from gun violence. It is a public health emergency, and we must treat it that way. So shouldn’t we ask ourselves: Why is it happening and what can we do to stop it? When disease and illness bring widespread death, doctors, scientists, and public health researchers study the causes so that they can find solutions, and the Federal Government invests in those efforts. For diabetes, which kills almost 76,000 people in the United States each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention receive $170 million. For planning and preparedness against the flu, which leads to 57,000 deaths each year, the CDC’s budget is more than $187 million. For asthma, 3,600 people, the CDC receives $29 million. For gun violence, which kills more than 33,000 Americans a year, the CDC’s budget is zero dollars—yes, zero dollars. That is because, beginning more than 20 years ago, an appropriations rider has prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from advocating or promoting gun control. Many interpreted this provision as a ban, and it has chilled any research into the causes of gun violence and how to prevent it. But in 2013, President Obama directed the CDC to conduct critical public health research, and the principal congressional author of the rider, former Republican Congressman Jay Dickey of Arkansas, has now disavowed it, recognizing it was a mistake and calling for Federal gun violence prevention to move forward… Why can’t we find a way to at least fund the research on the causes of gun violence? Why can’t we find a way of just putting $10 million a year into that research? Why can’t we do that?

Senator Murphy (CT): Unfortunately, science has become politicized, and Senator Markey is on the frontlines of trying to address climate change. But there is no reason this Congress should be deciding what researchers at the CDC pursue by means of lines of inquiry and what they do not pursue. That should be left up to scientists. That should be left up to people who are professionals in the field of deciding what is worthy of research and what is not. We are politicians. I don’t cower from that term. I am proud of the fact that I and we have chosen to try to make this country better through the political process. But we aren’t scientists. We don’t have medical backgrounds. When we get into the field of deciding what is worthy of research and what is not, bad things happen routinely, whether it is on the question of climate change or on the question of gun violence research.

Senator Ron Wyden (OR): The Senator from Connecticut and I have also been strong advocates of beefing up the research into gun violence. There has been a prohibition on doing that. Say that one to yourself—a prohibition on doing research into gun violence. It just defies common sense. It makes no sense at all to block the Centers for Disease Control from gathering information that can help our communities and our families be safe.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY): Let’s lift our irrational hold on the CDC and allow them to actually study the issue of gun deaths the way we are allowed to study any other cause of death in this country. The American people support this as well.

 Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT): [referring to letter from a constituent] These proposals are really relatively modest, and so are the others that this young person has advocated that we adopt—‘‘obvious and basic safeguards,’’ to quote him or her, ‘‘to gun ownership such as universal background checks, CDC research into gun violence… to name a few.’’ All of them should be adopted.

Senator Richard Durbin (IL): [reading statement from American Medical Association] The AMA, which lobbies on behalf of doctors, said on Tuesday it will press Congress to overturn 20-year-old legislation that blocks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun violence …”Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries.’’ Congress placed restrictions on CDC funding of gun research into the federal budget in 1996 at the urging of gun rights supporters who claimed the agency was biased toward gun control.

 Senator Tim Kaine (VA): Let’s talk about that. Congress has…put a number of restrictions in place to stop research into causes of gun violence, to stop the ability to trace weapons in gun violence. These are not only not doing the right thing but doing the wrong thing in the sense of the thing that seems completely contrary to the wishes of the constituents who send us here to represent them.

This is an absurd policy that needs to be changed. Earlier this year, the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS joined more than 140 science, public health, medical, and academic organizations urging Congress to lift the restrictions on gun violence research. Science can play a critical role in informing policymakers on how best to address gun violence. It’s time to #EndTheBan.