The sad truth why Congress cannot address gun violence

For many, the answer to America’s gun problem is simple. Stop allowing them to be so accessible. Institute broader background checks, ban assault weapons, create expiration dates for gun licenses.

Will those work? Who knows. But they are actions that can be done to try to solve this problem.

However, Congress is not trying. And to many, that’s unacceptable. How many mass shootings is it going to take to change the law, they ask? Republican presidential candidates are deflecting the issue, blaming a flawed mental health system rather than poor gun control laws, and then proposing zero plans for either, as noted by John Oliver on the most recent Last Week Tonight.

GunsTo create effective policy, it must be backed by fact-based evidence. And therein lies the problem, and the main reason why Congress cannot do anything.

It’s because, for the last two decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the agency that spearheads most research on public health on behalf of the government — is restricted from doing so by federal law.

That’s right — our government is encouraged not to conduct research on guns by our own lawmakers.

It dates back to 1993, when the New England Journal of Medicine published a paper which determined that keeping a gun inside a home increases the risk of homicide.

The National Rifle Association, the nation’s most powerful pro-gun organization, was outraged, and called for the elimination of the National Center for Injury Prevention, an arm of the CDC that funded the study. The center survived, but Congress passed an appropriations bill in 1996 with the language, “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

And there you have it. As an added measure, Congress stripped $2.6 million in funding from the CDC, the exact same amount the agency had used to study gun research the previous year.

While the law doesn’t explicitly ban gun research, it essentially killed the field because researchers are afraid of political backlash. According to a group that advocates for gun control, major public research funding for gun violence prevention is estimated at $2 million annually. Meanwhile, in 2011, the National Institutes of Health devoted $21 million to the study of headaches.

That’s 20 years of research that our country has lost out on. Republican lawmakers defend the law by saying that guns are not a disease. Meanwhile, the CDC studies pool safety and car crashes.

After the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, President Obama prompted the CDC to interpret that law literally. As in, conduct gun CDCresearch, not to advocate for gun control, but to study it objectively. Nothing changed. 

Even the man who drafted the 1996 law, Jay Dickey, a Republican former U.S. Representative for Arkansas, told the Huffington Post this week that the law was never meant to be so suffocating. “I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time,” Dickey said. “I have regrets.”

Democratic presidential candidates, at least, have targeted the issue. Hillary Clinton said she’d consider Executive Action to enforce background checks for guns purchased at gun shows or through a private seller online, which they are not now.

Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Virginia, said he wants to ban assault rifles.

Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, is surprisingly moderate on this issue, which has drawn a bit of scrutiny. His stance is more aligned with the state he represents (Vermont), the home of many hunters, rather than his usual liberal ways.

And then there’s Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, who essentially second-guessed Oregon victims in an interview on Tuesday when he said, “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me.” A day earlier, he wrote in a Facebook Q&A: “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.”

To sum up, our government, who we as citizens rely on to protect us, does not even allow its foremost research wing to study something that results in the death of tens of thousands of Americans per year.

Makes perfect sense to me.

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