A Price Confirmation Would Continue Obstruction of Gun Violence Research

A Price Confirmation Would Continue Obstruction of Gun Violence Research

The prospects for reinvigorating gun violence research could become even more remote. Federal funding for studies into gun violence and gun-related deaths has effectively been frozen for the last two decades, a worrying trend that looks to continue under a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress, especially if the Senate confirms Representative Tom Price, President Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Critics have taken on Price, an outspoken gun-rights advocate and conservative spending hawk, on a wide array of issues throughout his confirmation hearings, but his ardent support of gun rights has flown under the radar.

“Guns are used more often to protect lives, not take lives,” the Georgia Republican told Georgia’s Marietta Daily Journal last year. “Steps to remove firearms from the hands of law-abiding citizens endanger those very citizens.”

The 1996 Dickey Amendment blocked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds from being “used to advocate or promote gun control.” Since Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, a similar rule has also applied to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Price, who received an “A” rating from the NRA’s Political Victory Fund and a 90 percent approval rating from Gun Owners of America, has previously pushed to cut funding from both the CDC and NIH.

Jay Corzine, a University of Central Florida sociology professor who studies violent crime, insists that gun violence research is essential to mitigating gun-related deaths and that federal gun policies should be based on the best research available, not party politics. “It’s a mistake for lawmakers to restrict other federal agencies’ abilities to invest money in types of research that they see as meeting a national need,” says Corzine.

As head of the HHS, Price could shift how the agencies spend funds and curtail research or steer studies in other directions. That doesn’t augur well for new inquiries in this cash-strapped field. 

A recent Journal of the American Medical Association study found that gun violence research funding lagged behind investigations into other causes of death by billions of dollars.

(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association)
 

David Stark, a co-author of the study, aimed to find out how congressional restrictions affected research into gun-related deaths. Stark noted that had federal research funding been linked to the actual gun violence death toll, gun researchers would have received about $1.4 billion between 2004 and 2014, but they only received $22.1 million. Gun violence killed nearly ten times more people than fires, but research efforts received nearly $1 billion less in funding.

“No one would say that the intent of traffic safety research was to eliminate automobiles from the road,” Stark told The Trace. “No one is necessarily saying that the intent of gun violence research is to eliminate guns.”

Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to end the freeze on gun violence research. However, with Congress continuing to block dedicated funding, the executive order has largely failed in resuscitating any new research. The congressional funding restrictions have also spilled over into academia. “Graduates gravitate to a field where there’s funding,” says Corzine. “If there is less funding, [they] will go elsewhere.”

Having secured the backing of the NRA early on in the presidential campaign season, Trump is unlikely to request funding for new research. Despite calls from Democrats, academics, doctors, the American Medical Association, and even former congressman Jay Dickey of Arkansas (the Dickey Amendment’s author) to eliminate these restrictions, Corzine does not hold out hope that the situation will change anytime soon.

“There might be movement to loosen up [gun] control [restrictions],” Corzine says. “But in terms of movement towards research, I just don’t see that happening.”