What is the NRA so afraid of?

What is the NRA so afraid of?
© Getty Images

Among the relentless strategies of the NRA to prevent common-sense measures to protect Americans, perhaps the most nefarious has been the ban on research into the epidemiology and science around gun violence in the United States.

In 1997, the CDC had nearly $2.6 million budgeted for firearm injury prevention research. However, the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill included the Dickey Amendment which mandated 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.”

Consequently, in 2013, just $100,000 remained dedicated to research on gun violence prevention. Most believe that an article published by Arthur Kellerman in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home” scared the NRA into pushing the research ban, fearing future research that might undermine the pro-gun agenda.


Since that time, funding for research on firearm related injuries through the NIH, DOJ, ATF, and other government institutions has eroded as well. As a result, the little research that has been done has been funded privately and inconsistently.

After the horrific 2013 Newtown tragedy, President Obama endorsed a series of executive orders meant to “end the freeze on gun violence research,” supported by every major healthcare professional organizations (including the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics) in addition to hundreds of scientists across the country. There seemed to be hope for answers.

While there was hope that there might be federal funding to examine the epidemic of gun violence, it never came to pass.  Former House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE said  “the CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” invoking the prevailing notion is that gun violence is not a public health issue. Former NRA spokesman Chris Cox reinforced this idea, saying “our concern is not with legitimate medical science.

Our concern is [the CDC] promoting the idea that gun ownership was a disease that needed to be eradicated.” But therein lies the great untruth: The CDC, specifically the National Injury Prevention Center, researches many “non-diseases” because they are of great concern to public health for their propensity to cause death, injury, and disability; this includes automobiles, cigarette and nicotine use, prescription drugs, fires, intimate partner violence, drowning, and child abuse to name a few.

Their recommendations after objective scientific examination even limit some other constitutional rights such as freedom to assemble (smoking bans, fire codes) and freedom of speech (abusive language and hate speech).

Why is the NRA so dead-set against science? It is simple, they are scared of the story that the data will tell. The research produced from federal funding to the NIH and CDC is highly competitive, heavily scrutinized and robustly peer reviewed before publication, to ensure veracity and prevent any fabrications or falsehoods.

We need a strong, publicly funded, empiric research program led by the NIH and CDC to objectively evaluate the public health impact of guns in this country. Only this data can inform best-practice policy development. As it stands now, such policy is directed not by facts but by fear promulgated by the gun lobby. where our future policy should be directed.

Our challenge is this: if a good guy with a gun truly is the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun, then let’s prove it with empiric, reproducible data. Similarly, if reducing magazine sizes, banning assault rifles, and enhancing background checks make our communities safer, then let us prove it with empiric, reproducible data.

We need a robust, publicly funded, research program lead by the NIH and CDC to objectively guide future policy. Until we are able to use data to drive reason instead of the fear, assumption and anecdotes that currently dominates the conversation, we are complicit in the deaths of all the those who have been the victims of this senseless epidemic of gun violence.

If the truth will set us free, then we ask our leaders to allow us find it. What are they afraid of?

Benjamin Hoffman M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore. He is also an expert in child injury prevention.