GOP blocks Dem attempts to allow federal gun research

GOP blocks Dem attempts to allow federal gun research
© Hill file photo

A House panel on Thursday rejected multiple efforts by Democrats to eliminate a budget amendment that has frozen nearly all government research into gun violence for 17 years.

During a markup of next year’s health spending bill, Republicans blocked two amendments that would have allowed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study gun-related deaths. Neither had a recorded vote. 

Eliminating the provision has become a priority for Democrats since the June 12 attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 people — the nation’s deadliest mass shooting. 

The provision, known as the Dickey Amendment for former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), was first enacted in 1996 after groups including the National Rifle Association (NRA) accused federal agencies of trying to advance gun control.

The amendments came from leading Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Nita Lowey (N.Y.). Both lawmakers mentioned that the bill’s namesake has since urged Congress to repeal the language.

“Congressman Dickey has made it clear that the Second Amendment is not threatened by science,” Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said. “All I’m saying is, let’s do what the original author of this language advises.”

Only one current Republican lawmaker is on record in support of repealing the language. Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), who is among the most endangered House lawmakers this cycle, quietly signed a letter last December from several medical groups that urged GOP leadership to make the change.

The 1997 budget amendment specifically prohibits federal funds “to advocate or promote gun control,”  which researchers say has had a chilling effect.

But Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who leads the Appropriations health subcommittee, pointed out that it is not an outright ban.

“Mr. Dickey’s amendment itself simply says none of the funds made available in this title may be used in whole or part to advocate for gun control. That’s what it says,” Cole said.

DeLauro, a longtime advocate of gun control, blasted Republicans for refusing to buck the NRA.

“The fact is, the gun lobby has a lock on this Congress, and they have continued to block this research at every turn,” DeLauro added. “They’ve taken away our ability to protect the public from gun violence.”

Top Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), made a similar attempt to remove the budget rider last year after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, Calif., but ultimately came up empty.

Democrats made clear that they would keep working to eliminate the provision during the full committee markup next week, though it will almost certainly be dismissed again by GOP members.

“I view this in terms of saving lives, and this is a committee that has that ability to do it,” DeLauro said. “It’s common sense to direct the CDC to engage in research.”