It’s been 20 years since 13 people were shot and killed at Columbine High School.
It’s been even longer since our federal government conducted any real research into the public health epidemic of gun violence.
Every day, 100 Americans are killed by gun violence, with another 210 injured. But as devastating as this public health epidemic is, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) haven’t received any substantial Congressional funding to study gun violence for more than two decades. That’s a generation of research lost, a generation of opportunity gone forever. There is so much that we don’t know because the government stopped funding the kind of research that could save our children, our veterans and our communities.
Gun violence is such a complex issue that it requires a multifaceted approach. But without dedicated research, how do we know what the most effective methods are to disrupt gun violence? How do we know what the relationship is between guns and other epidemics like drugs and poverty? How do we know what kind of programs should be in place to provide meaningful treatment to gun violence survivors?
We need to know the answers to these questions. We need to know what the second and third-order effects of gun violence are. We need to know why people choose to own guns, what the public health impacts of state policies are, what combination of policies are successful in combating gun violence. We could fill a book with all the things we need to know about gun violence, but don’t due to this lack of research.
The CDC and NIH should be leading the way when it comes to this sort of research. But due to false perceptions about the Dickey Amendment, our nation’s top research agencies have been blocked for decades from investigating one of the deadliest public health epidemics plaguing our country. We’ve been lucky to have incredibly bright, accomplished and talented researchers conducting privately funded work that’s taught us so many important points about gun violence - but just think what they could do with the support of our nation’s top government research facilities.
Thankfully, change is just around the corner. Last year, Congress finally clarified that the Dickey Amendment only applied to advocacy efforts, and that the CDC is free to conduct research into gun violence as a public health issue. But while Congress failed last year to appropriate any funds for gun violence prevention research, this year, the House Appropriations Committee has authorized $50 million specifically for the CDC and NIH to conduct this work. The House of Representatives and the Senate now have the opportunity to pass this budget and ensure that we get the answers we so desperately need.
It’s clear that obstacles remain in what should be a bipartisan effort. During a House Appropriations subcommittee meeting earlier this year, one member expressed concern that funding would be used to make a “political point” rather than being spent to make a difference.
But this is an issue of saving lives, not making political points. We seek to unite on this issue, not to divide - to cross the aisle with open hands, not closed fists. We simply seek knowledge. We seek to find the answers to the myriad of questions gun violence presents, to break the chokehold on research from the past 20-plus years.
Our world has changed dramatically in the past few decades. But what hasn’t changed is the ever-present threat of gun violence. If anything, the issue has worsened these past two decades. We deserve the bare minimum of knowing what we are up against, of knowing as much about gun violence as we possibly can. It’s time for Congress to fully fund the CDC and NIH to study this important issue. It’s literally a matter of life and death.
Kris Brown is president of Brady, and organization that advocates for ways to prevent gun violence.