Compared to causes of death throughout the United States, research on gun violence has been significantly limited. When it comes to advocating gun control, lack of data regarding the success of gun control measures proves an obstacle. This impasse is a result of a 1996 Amendment.
The National Rifle Association pushed for an amendment that would suppress the amount of funding made available to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for advocating or promoting gun control. A congressman from Arkansas, Jay Dickey, sponsored an amendment in 1996 that forbid advocacy.
While the amendment did not specifically forbid research on gun violence, Congress lowered the CDC’s budget by the amount it would commit to gun violence research. As a result, the CDC has not invested much research into guns as a public health threat.
In recent years, medical and public health professionals have been pushing for Congress to lift the stipulations of the Dickey Amendment. More than 100 medical groups signed a letter asking Congress to fund public health research on gun violence at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of late, Congress has not budged.
CDC’s public health research encompasses traumatic brain injuries, car crashes, drownings, accidental falls, suicides, and more. Out of the 30,000 annual gun deaths, mass shootings only account for a small fraction of deaths, with half of them coming from suicides. Despite this, the amendment has since suppressed how much research the CDC can invest in exploring the risk factors of gun ownership in suicides.
As a result of these restrictions, researchers who have shown interest in studying gun violence have sought private funding. While programs have been put in place, many have dwindled. This is thought to come from a lack of substantial data. While deaths via motor-vehicles are tracked, comparable data regarding gun deaths is limited. There is no definitive answer as to how many households own guns, or much data beyond that.
After some time, Dickey came to disagree with the amendment he was once responsible for. Prior to his death, he co-authored a Washington Post article with Mark Rosenberg, a CDC official, advocating for more gun violence research.
Until Congress funds CDC gun violence research, gun violence cannot be treated as a public health problem.