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(NEW YORK) — This report is part of “Rethinking gun violence” an ABC News series examining the level of gun violence in the United States – and what can be done about it.
Gun violence is an endemic problem in the United States – once again worsening in some areas after many years of decline and persisting at high levels in others.
While it is one of the leading causes of death, one thing that’s hard to know is the extent of the problem, fueled in part by a more than two-decade – recently amended ban on the Centers for Disease Control. and Prevention using federal funds to “defend or promote gun control”.
This has not always been the case: in 1983 the CDC adopted a public health approach to gun violence.
“At that time, in 1983, there were two types of frequent injury deaths. One was motor vehicle crashes and the other was gun violence,” Dr. Mark Rosenberg, CEO of the Task Force for global health and former CDC member of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told ABC News.
During the 1990s, both public and private programs conducted research on firearms, including the CDC’s Injury Prevention Program, where Rosenberg worked, and the Violence Prevention Research Program of the University of California at Davis.
But in 1996, Congress passed an amendment to the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriation Bill. The bill’s amendment, commonly known as the Dickey Amendment, prohibited the use of federal funds to “defend or promote gun control,” resulting in the elimination of all funding from the CDC to conduct gun-related research. fire – having a lasting impact further limiting what we know today about gun violence.
Even though the funding tap was recently reactivated, researchers are still feeling the effects of the lack of data to study gun violence. Researchers say the problem of gun violence is urgent and requires a disproportionate solution, detached from politics.
To concern ABC News Live Mondays at 3 p.m. to learn more about gun violence from experts during panel discussions. And check back next week, when we take a look at what some gun owners think can solve gun violence.
“If we can understand the causes, we can change the effects and we can change the effects for the better, so science is a way to understand cause and effect and a way to link them,” Rosenberg told ABC News .
Here’s what you need to know about the gun violence data problem and what advocates say it can be done:
Impact of the Dickey Amendment
In the early 1990s, the CDC had a Budget of $ 2.6 million dedicated to gun violence research for both internal research and external studies.
“We started to find out what the problem is,” Rosenberg told ABC News. The agency studied the number of people who died as a result of gun violence, the weapons used and the underlying causes.
Dr Garen Wintemute, head of the violence prevention research program at the University of California at Davis, said the program received two grants at the time to conduct much-needed gun research.
“All of these grants used unique data collected in California,” said Wintemute, who told ABC News that the organization is linking gun purchases to criminal records as part of its prevention research.
But that all changed when the Dickey Amendment was introduced by former Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark.
Four years before the passage of the Dickey Amendment, the CDC published its first study on gun violence. The report looked at the correlation between safety and guns, concluding that having a gun in a household doesn’t necessarily lead to safer outcomes, Rosenberg said.
“The NRA did not like these findings. So they stepped up their attack on our research program,” Rosenberg told ABC News.
ABC News has contacted the National Rifle Association to ask for comment on Dr. Rosenberg’s allegations, but has not received a response.
The Dickey Amendment reallocated the $ 2.6 million from gun research to other health research on topics such as traumatic brain injury, according to Wintemute.
Researchers fought the effects of the amendment, which banned advocacy for gun control but had an impact beyond advocacy, as experts said they considered the vague language of the amendment as a “threat”.
“This Dickey Amendment has been a real deterrent,” Rosenberg told ABC News. “It was enough to discourage individual researchers and, at the same time, Congress took away the money we were using for the research we were doing.”
The CDC sent ABC News a statement saying it was “subject to a language of credits indicating that none of the funds made available to the CDC can be used to” defend or promote gun control. “
“The lack of dedicated and sustained funding for gun injury research (…) has limited our ability to conduct research to better understand how best to prevent gun-related injuries and deaths compared to to other public health issues, ”he said.
Shortage of funds
The Wintermute program suffered from a lack of federal funds after the amendment was passed. Although he was able to continue to do research with private funding, this work was limited. He originally had around 12 people on his team, but says he only had four left, including himself, limiting the scope of the program.
Although the Department of Justice has still allocated funds for gun research under the auspices of the National Institute of Justice (the research arm of the Department of Justice), Wintemute said it was was insufficient.
For example, in 2004, a total of $ 461,759 was awarded by the agency to three different institutes for firearms research – a far cry from the millions normally required for in-depth study.
“We had to go back to simpler, more descriptive studies that used available data. There was no money to go out and collect data in bulk,” Wintemute said.
Other institutions conducting research have also been affected.
“Due to the Dickey Amendment, we took gun injuries out of our portfolio,” said Dr. Frederick Rivara, epidemiologist and professor at the University of Washington, who conducted injury prevention research, including gun-related injuries.
“It really discouraged any serious research on guns,” Rivara said.
This gap in firearms research has resulted in a dearth of people familiar with the subject and a lack of data still felt by experts today.
“It will be another five to ten years before we have a sufficient number of experienced researchers on the case,” Wintemute said.
The need for research and data collection was finally reconsidered by the federal government after the mass shooting in Parkland in 2018 that left 17 people dead.
After the mass shooting, an omnibus bill was signed by President Donald Trump clarifying that restricting the use of federal funds to defend or promote gun control does not prohibit research.
In 2019, Congress resumed allocating funds for research and data collection on gun violence and injury.
While the Dickey Amendment remains in place, Dickey, its author who died in 2017, saw the impact on gun-related research and changed his mind, according to Rosenberg – who later became friends with Dickey.
“Jay Dickey has finally seen the dire consequences of gun violence… with mass shootings with increasing numbers of gun homicides and suicides,” Rosenberg told ABC News. “He changed his position.
In a editorial co-authored with Rosenberg in 2012, Dickey says he “served as the NRA’s resource person in Congress” to cut the budget for gun violence research.
“We were on the other side of the fierce battle 16 years ago, but now we fully agree that scientific research should be done on gun injury prevention and how to prevent gun deaths can be found without infringing on the rights of legitimate gun owners. , we read in a section of the article published in The Washington Post.
More funds needed
Federal funds are now available to study gun violence, but organizations working on policy recommendations are still struggling to lead it.
“There is more money for research now. But what is missing are datasets,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Gun Violence Education Fund, referring to the datasets at the federal level who could help with gun research. “We destroy federal background check records in 24 hours… how do you suppose you understand who is buying guns and what the implications are, if you can’t look at that data,” he added.
The nonprofit, affiliated with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence based in Washington DC, focuses on finding evidence-based policy solutions and programs that can reduce gun violence.
“The data deficit has hurt us because we don’t understand all the solutions,” Horwitz told ABC News.
Despite the lack of research, experts say there is still a way forward to find solutions to the high levels of gun violence plaguing the country.
“It’s a solvable problem,” Rosenberg said. “We can find out what the patterns are, what the problem is, we can find out the causes, we can find out what works both to reduce gun violence and protect gun rights.”
The key to finding possible solutions, researchers said, is to focus on science rather than politics.
“Science is not advocacy, science understands things as they are,” Wintemute said.
While the gun research landscape has improved, there is still a long way to go, Wintemute said.
For fiscal year 2022, Congress approved at least $ 25 million to fund gun violence research, according to the CDC. And while that’s an increase of $ 12.5 million from the previous year, more resources are needed, according to Wintemude.
“The Congress was unsuccessful,” he said.
He believes the gun research budget needs to match the scale of the problem and also help offset the track record of the Dickey Amendment, including the gaps in the data and expertise it created. .
“To help eliminate the story and attack the problem with a research program suited to the size of the problem itself, we must remove the Dickey Amendment, even as amended,” he added.
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