Ranking Member Clarifies Widely-Held Misconception that Federal Agency is Banned from Researching Gun Violence
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to use the agency’s existing authority and prioritize available funds to expand critical gun violence research immediately. In a letter sent to CDC Director Thomas Frieden, Carper noted that, despite widely-held misconceptions, the agency is permitted to conduct scientific research into gun violence under current law.
“In the aftermath of the deadliest shooting in our nation’s history, it would be the height of irresponsibility to do nothing to combat this gun violence epidemic,” said Carper. “We have a shared responsibility to ensure that mass shootings aren’t the new norm in our society, and I believe that actions we take together will help to save lives. If we are going to truly attempt to reduce gun violence, Congress must step up to the plate and fund this research, but, in the meantime, the CDC should prioritize existing funds at their disposal to conduct scientific research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. The agency is permitted and well within its authority to take this important step today, and I urge them to expand this critical work without delay.”
Carper applauded the American Medical Association (AMA) for identifying gun violence as a “public health crisis” in the United States and highlighting the urgent need for the public health community to develop a comprehensive response to it. However, Carper noted that, in their push for action, the AMA “mischaracterized both the ‘ban’ on the CDC from conducting gun violence research and the need for legislation to overturn it.”
Senator Carper wrote to the CDC in March about the agency’s research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. In its response, the agency clarified that, while the 1996 Dickey amendment prohibits the CDC from advocating for or promoting gun control, the rider does permit “activities that supported the collection of firearm injury-related data and engagement in scientific, public health research directed to preventing injuries from violence and firearms.” While Congress has failed to appropriate the $10 million President Obama requested in his FY 2016 and 2017 budgets for research on the causes of gun violence and ways to prevent it, CDC has not been barred from conducting these potentially life-saving studies.
Carper affirmed his commitment to helping secure additional funds in Congress for this important work, but called on the CDC to begin the research process now, writing: “The public health community has an opportunity to do much more while also respecting the right of law-abiding citizens to buy and own firearms under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Using a public health approach of defining problems, identifying risk factors, and testing prevention strategies is a common sense step the CDC can take to reduce gun violence.”
In addition, Senator Carper also wrote to the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Justice, the National Research Council, and the National Science Foundation last month to request information into their own efforts to conduct gun violence research. Carper asked for responses by June 24th.
The text of the letter to CDC Director Frieden can be found below and in PDF form here.
Dr. Tom Frieden
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30329
Dear Director Frieden:
Let me begin by thanking you for your leadership of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during an especially challenging chapter in our nation’s history. I also write today to urge the CDC to expand its support for scientific research into the causes and prevention of gun violence and to use available research funds to aid in this effort.
Following the deadliest shooting in our nation’s history in Orlando on June 12, 2016, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy calling gun violence “a public health crisis” requiring a comprehensive response from the public health community. The AMA also cited a provision in current law that it believes has prohibited the CDC from researching gun violence for the past 20 years.
While I agree with the AMA that gun violence is a public health crisis and commend their dedication to its prevention, I believe the AMA was incorrect in suggesting that the CDC is banned from conducting gun violence research.
As you may recall, I wrote to you earlier this year requesting information regarding the CDC’s interpretation of the Dickey Amendment, the provision in law that the AMA believes restricts the CDC’s gun violence research efforts. In response, the CDC indicated that it interpreted the amendment to “prohibit impermissible lobbying related to advocating or promoting gun control” but that “activities that supported the collection of firearm injury-related data and engagement in scientific, public health research directed to preventing injuries from violence and firearms were still permissible.” The CDC also stated that “understanding the patterns, characteristics, and impact of firearm violence is an important step toward preventing firearm injuries and deaths in the United States.”
The CDC’s response and conversations with my staff have also informed me that the CDC is reluctant to conduct gun violence research, not because of the Dickey Amendment, but due to limited funding in the absence of a $10 million line-item appropriation for gun violence research. Despite President Obama’s FY 2016 and 2017 budget requests including $10 million for research on the causes of gun violence and ways to prevent it, Congress has not acted to provide any level of funding for this effort. This is a failure on the part of Congress, and I am committed to helping the CDC obtain this additional funding.
However, in the absence of Congressional leadership, I strongly urge the CDC to prioritize existing funds to allow a more robust research process to begin. The CDC has done some work, including a recent report on gun violence in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, an expansion of the National Violent Death Reporting System, and an effort with stakeholders to identify the most pressing research questions on this issue. However, the public health community has an opportunity to do much more while also respecting the right of law-abiding citizens to buy and own firearms under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Using a public health approach of defining problems, identifying risk factors, and testing prevention strategies is a common sense step the CDC and our nation can take to reduce gun violence. Thank you very much for your consideration of this request and for your leadership of CDC.
With best personal regards, I am
cc: The Honorable Ron Johnson