House Dems renew push for funding gun violence research at CDC

House Dems renew push for funding gun violence research at CDC
© Stefani Reynolds

House Democrats are poised to approve new funding for gun violence research in the face of what they say is a “public health emergency” killing thousands of Americans every year.

If successful, it would be the first time in nearly 20 years that Congress has funded gun violence research after an amendment passed in the 1990s discouraged federal agencies from studying the issue.

“We should not be afraid of research. Gun violence is a public health emergency,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all O'Rourke faces pressure from left on 'Medicare for all' Dems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds MORE (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s health subcommittee.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the nation's foremost public health agency. And yet, it has been absent from this research agenda for more than 20 years,” she said.

But Republicans argue directing funds toward research is more about making a political point that will exacerbate differences between the two parties.

“The money we spend needs to make a difference as opposed to making a political point,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeDems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — FDA issues proposal to limit sales of flavored e-cigs | Trump health chief gets grilling | Divisions emerge over House drug pricing bills | Dems launch investigation into short-term health plans Overnight Health Care - Presented by Kidney Care Partners - Dems renew push to fund gun violence research at CDC | New uncertainty over vaping crackdown | Lawmakers spar over Medicare drug prices MORE (Okla.), the top Republican on the subcommittee.

An amendment passed in 1996 — named for former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) — prevented the use of federal funds to advocate for gun control. But Democrats and public health experts argue it also created a chilling effect at agencies studying the causes of gun violence and how to prevent it. 

Democrats have pushed to repeal that amendment in past years, but were blocked by Republicans who argued that it didn’t actually ban federal agencies from researching gun violence — just from advocating for gun control.

As a compromise, Congress included a statement in a spending bill last year that says the CDC can study gun violence, but didn’t include any direct funding for such research.

But agency officials said they need Congress to actually fund research before they do it.

“If gun violence prevention research can lead us to trying to mitigate against needless death and suffering, then I believe it's our responsibility, and a moral responsibility for us to fund at the federal level gun violence research,” DeLauro said.

Democrats didn’t say how much funding they wanted for research, but the American Medical Association and other groups have called for at least $50 million annually to research the causes and effects of gun violence.

Republicans on the committee last year blocked a proposal to designate $10 million in funding.

Democrats also appeared to shift their position on repealing the Dickey amendment with House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyStop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave Bottom Line Left-wing Dems in minority with new approach to spending MORE (N.Y.) saying it could continue if Congress funded gun violence research.

It could signal that Democrats are trying to find ways to get Republican buy-in on funding by allaying fears that it would be used to promote gun control.

Still, Republicans argue Congress has no place to tell agencies what to study and doing so would direct influence the outcomes of research.

“There's some dangerous there. We're pretty careful about trying to let researchers decide what areas of research makes sense," Cole said.

“If you've got some legitimate ideas go out there and do it. We're not trying to stop you from researching."