On the heels of the latest tragic mass shooting, and as the epidemic of gun violence continues to rage in communities across the country -- killing more than 89 Americans a day -- the hands of our nation’s leading health agency remain tied by a Congress more concerned about politics than patients.

In 1996, under intense pressure from the gun lobby, Congress added an amendment to an appropriations bill that effectively blocked the CDC from carrying out the necessary research to better understand how to prevent gun violence. In addition to the ban, Congress also cut funding for gun violence research and, in 2011, extended the research restriction to the NIH. The result of these actions has had a chilling effect on the entire research community.

ADVERTISEMENT

Former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), the author, has stated repeatedly that he regrets offering the amendment and thinks it should be repealed. Despite Dickey’s comments and President Obama’s executive action in 2013 directing the CDC to resume gun violence research, Congress has provided no funding, and the restrictive language remains in place.

Since 1996, the federal government has spent $240 million a year on traffic safety research and since 1970 we have been able to save 360,000 lives. During the same period, there has been almost no publicly funded research on gun violence, which kills the same number of people every year.  As a result, many questions remain unanswered on the most effective ways to prevent gun violence.   

As a physician and healthcare professional, I and thousands of my colleagues, remain deeply concerned about gun violence in the United States. We are on the frontlines caring for shooting victims and we understand that gun violence is one of the most important public health and injury issues in the U.S.  Yet, over the last 20 years, little has been done to combat this crisis with data and scientific evidence.

This is an emotional issue for all us and everyone has his or her own belief regarding a solution.  Many believe that gun policy would only have a negative impact on law-abiding gun owners while others believe that strong policy is needed to reduce gun violence.  However, “belief systems” cannot be used to develop effective injury and public health policy. Effective policy can only be developed with evidence-based, scientific research. 

With this research ban in place how do we address the growing problem of gun violence in this country? As citizens, our voices need to be heard. Last week I travelled to Capitol Hill with my physician colleagues to urge Congress to act and remove the ban on the CDC and to fund gun violence research.  Sadly, our press conference just happened to be the same morning as the San Bernardino massacre.

As is the case with many policies already in place to ensure the safety of citizens, the CDC has helped to lead the way.  Research has shown that unrestrained passengers in automobiles were at a higher risk of death. Seat belts and infant car seats save lives and laws are in place to ensure automobile passenger safety. When it came to recreational pool safety and deaths related to drowning, we didn’t say, “eliminate pools”. Recommendations for pool safety came from evidence-based research that determined four-sided pool fences prevent drowning. These policies have saved millions of lives; gun violence prevention is no different.

 The CDC can lead the way in unbiased research that every single one us can support, including responsible gun owners.  Let’s stop the finger pointing and rhetoric and get down to business. This is not a second amendment issue; it’s about common sense and safety.  We can all work together and make this country safer and healthier from gun violence.

It’s time for research, not rhetoric to address gun violence in America.

Berman is a member of Doctors for America and a practicing pediatrician based in St. Petersburg, Florida.