Senate Democrats Demand ‘Substantive Research’ On Gun Violence’s Public Health Effects

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., gestures as he speaks to family and friends of victims of gun violence, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, during a news conference marking the 20th anniversary of the passing of the Brady Bill. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLES DHARAPAK

By Sam P.K. Collins

A quintet of Senate Democrats is asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide an update about its gun violence research in a letter sent to the agency. 
The letter, signed by Democratic Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), and Brian Schatz (Hawaii), urged CDC Director Tom Frieden to disclose specifics of the agency’s research and a timeline of when it would release its findings.

“Part of these efforts must include serious substantive research into the problem of gun violence in order to better craft additional strategies with which to combat it,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately, there have been no clear signs that the CDC is beginning to implement this agenda.”

In June 2013, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies — with the help of the CDC — released a multi-year gun violence research agenda that outlined key priorities in addressing what some public officials now consider a national epidemic. Action steps included identifying the root causes of gun violence and studying the effectiveness of background checks. Last year, the CDC received $151 million for “injury prevention and control”, a portion of which lawmakers said it could have used for its endeavors.

Despite these efforts, lawmakers say much hasn’t changed. In the letter delivered to CDC’s Atlanta headquarters last Friday, the quintet said the agency hasn’t provided information about subject matter experts involved in the research, barriers to planning, and a timeline of results. The Democratic senators said they want Frieden to submit a status report before the end of October.

The onus to produce quality research, however, may not totally fall on the CDC, or any other federally funded research agency for that matter. Gun violence research has been all but nonexistent since 1996, when congressional Republicans — led by Arkansas congressman Jay Dickey — stripped the CDC of $2.6 million and pushed through an amendment that outlawed gun violence research after the agency published a report that exposed the dangers of gun ownership.

The GOP’s actions have decreased gun research funding considerably. Since 2007, the CDC has since spent no more than $100,000 annually to conduct gun violence reporting that doesn’t delve deeper than statistics about gun-related injuries and deaths. Even launching the CDC’s newest gun research project proved to be a hassle. Last year, President Obama had to convince GOP lawmakers that the steps the White House took to launch the CDC gun violence research project did not violate the 1996 amendment.

Earlier this year, Markey and Sen. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced bills to appropriate $10 million for gun violence research for the next six years, to the chagrin of GOP lawmakers and guns right advocates — many of whom have called the White House’s efforts an effort to produce government propaganda that disparages gun manufactures instead of violent offenders. NRA’s director of public affairs Arulanandam expressed the lobbying organization’s stance in a statement to CNN last year.

“What works to reduce gun violence is to make sure that criminals are prosecuted and those who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others don’t have access to firearms,” Arulanandam said. “Not to carry out more studies.”

For President Barack Obama and other proponents of gun reform, however, the issue of gun violence goes beyond one’s Second Amendment rights. Gun violence has become a public health issue. A study released at the beginning of the year showed that bullets injure and kill more than 10,000 children each year. According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the domestic gun rate eclipses that of 22 peer countries combined. Gun violence also drains the economy: $100 million of annual taxpayer dollars go toward medical treatment, reduction in the quality of life, criminal proceedings, and new security measures.

That’s why lawmakers want to strike while the iron’s hot, as seen in last Friday’s letter.

“Gun violence…kills more than 30,000 people each year. It destroys families and damages communities. It is a public health crisis in every sense of the word, and it is critical that we treat it is as such,” the senators wrote.