Gun violence is a subject for medical research

Republicans have consistently established themselves as the party rejecting scientific facts and research – and this time we’re not only talking about denying climate change. For over 19 years, Republicans have stubbornly refused to budge on their gag order preventing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from conducting research on gun violence.

Just this week, Leader Pelosi (D-Calif.), my Democratic colleagues, and I pushed for a series of motions on the floor of the House that called for a vote on my Gun Violence Research Act, a bill that would lift the ban on the CDC with respect to studying gun violence. Although my Democratic colleagues in the House voted overwhelmingly to bring my Gun Violence Research Act to the floor for an immediate vote each time, the Republican majority continues to sweep the issue of gun violence research under the rug and refuses to even debate the issue. Instead, Republicans have consistently signaled to the American people that they have placed the priorities of special interest groups, like the NRA, above the safety and well-being of the people they represent.

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The origins of the issue can be traced back to when the CDC first began conducting gun violence research as a public health issue in the 1980s. Largely considered the tipping point for the CDC’s research was a 1993 CDC funded study published in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Gun ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home.” This study ultimately concluded that keeping a firearm in the home was associated with a significantly greater risk of homicide and suicide. Such findings ran contrary to the talking points of the NRA, whose PR campaign staunchly advocated that privately owned firearms in households provided safety and protection. Naturally, regardless of the truth of the study, such findings left the NRA unsettled and greatly apprehensive.

So the NRA did what they do best. They came out guns blazing calling for the outright elimination of the entire center that funded the study, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. This is the very center that conducts life-saving research into everything from seatbelts to child abuse. After not gaining much traction, the NRA eventually reneged on their lobbying efforts to dismantle the center and instead opted for a new route: the Congressional power of the purse.

The NRA turned to their right-hand man in Congress, Republican Representative Jay Dickey from Arkansas, to carry the mantle. In 1996, Rep. Dickey succeeded in passing an amendment that successfully expropriated the $2.6 million the CDC has spent on gun research that year and, more damagingly, declared that “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.” What is now commonly referred to as the Dickey Amendment effectively halted any further CDC research on guns through intimidation and the fear of repercussion.

Fast-forward 20 years later to today and the same freeze on gun research is still in effect. What has thawed, however, is former Rep. Dickey’s views on gun research. A remorseful Dickey has recently gone on record numerous times expressing his regret for blocking what he now believes is desperately needed research into gun violence. While I applaud Rep. Dickey for being forthcoming, the fact of the matter is that my colleagues in Congress and I are still fighting today to undue the damage done by the Dickey Amendment.

This Congress alone, Republicans struck down Rep. Nita Lowey’s (D-N.Y.) amendment to revoke the Dickey Amendment, Republicans refused to vote on Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) legislation that would provide $10 million per year for CDC gun research, and Republican leadership outright rejected Leader Pelosi’s demands that the Dickey Amendment rider be stripped from the trillion dollar spending package. President Obama has also called for more research into gun safety in his recent executive actions.

Frustratingly, my Republican colleagues reject such proposals and instead invoke the straw man argument that “a gun is not a disease” and therefore the CDC has no premise to study our nation’s epidemic of gun violence. Republicans have no issue with CDC conducting non-disease related research on everything from bicycle helmet safety to highway safety, yet demonstrate their political hypocrisy in their refusal to allow gun violence research. With well over 30,000 Americans dying from gunshots each year, gun violence is undoubtedly a public health crisis that necessitates attention.

Representing Silicon Valley, I know firsthand the proliferation of knowledge and informed decision-making resulting from objective research. Nothing about gun research should be controversial or partisan. It is a commonsense way to simply understand why tens of thousands of our fellow citizens are being killed every year without eroding the Second Amendment and demonizing the millions of law-abiding gun owners. How can policymakers ever truly understand how to effectively tackle a problem and protect the American people without being able to adequately understand why the problem is occurring?

Honda represents California’s 17th Congressional District and has served in the House since 2001. He sits on the Appropriations Committee.

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