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 DeLauroTrump admin ending legal aid, English classes for migrant children in US shelters Brazilian firm draws scrutiny on Trump farm aid Watchdog: DeVos used personal emails for work in 'limited' cases 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 ColeEx-GOP lawmaker says Trump 'illegitimate president,' should be impeached Ex-GOP lawmaker pens op-ed calling for Trump to be impeached House panel approves language revoking 2001 war authority as Iran tensions spike 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 LoweyHouse panel wraps up final 2020 spending bill as Senate lags House panel wraps up final 2020 spending bill as Senate lags On The Money: Democrats set stage for next shutdown fight | House panel wraps up final 2020 spending bill | GOP senators, White House delay meeting on spending | Trump hits Fed over high interest rates 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."