Vice President Joe Biden, chair of the White House working group on gun law reform, announced on Thursday that the Obama administration would likely propose reforms to a series of little-known, National Rifle Association (NRA) supported regulations that severely restrict the use of federal money to support research on gun violence. According to the Washington Post, Biden’s comments highlighted the serious gaps in medical and epidemiological knowledge about guns caused by the current restrictions:
Biden also mentioned strengthening the ability of federal agencies to conduct research about gun violence. He drew a comparison between current limits on federal gathering of data about gun violence and 1970s-era restrictions on federal research into the causes of traffic fatalities. Biden stressed a need for the government to collect information about “what kind of weapons are used most to kill people” and “what kind of weapons are trafficked weapons.”
The anti-science restrictions Biden is discussing date back to the 1990s. Alarmed by growing scientific research on the health risks created by the widespread prevalence of guns, the NRA and its Congressional allies stripped all funding for the Center for Disease Control’s gun research budget. They also inserted a provision into the CDC appropriation bills that said “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control,” deterring the CDC from providing significant funds to gun research ever since. As a result, the New York Times reports, “the amount of money available today for studying the impact of firearms is a fraction of what it was in the mid-1990s, and the number of scientists toiling in the field has dwindled to just a handful as a result.” This has meant in practice that “there is no scientific consensus on the best approach to limiting gun violence, and the N.R.A. is blocking work that might well lead to such a consensus.”
A letter sent to the White House working group warned of the tragic health consequences of this research dearth, noting that “medical treatment of gunshot wounds costs an estimated $2 billion annually, half of which comes from taxpayer dollars” and that the “total costs of gun violence to American society are on the order of $100 billion per year.” Moreover, as the Center for American Progress’ Jonathan Moreno points out, “Taxpayers support the CDC because its job is to reduce Americans’ deaths and injuries, but though gun violence is the leading cause of death of African Americans ages 15-24, its website doesn’t even link to information about firearm violence prevention.”
The few intrepid researchers who have been able to find funding outside the government have perhaps discovered why the NRA is so afraid of more research in this area. Scholars at Harvard University have put together strong evidence that more guns mean more deaths, while researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a clear, evidence-based set of policy proposals for common-sense reforms to America’s gun laws.