““The NRA complained to Congress that the CDC was using the results of its research to essentially advocate for gun control. They called it propaganda.”
In the immediate aftermath of the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee quietly rejected an amendment that would have allowed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the underlying causes of gun violence.
Though gun violence and gun control has again come to the forefront of the American conversation, prohibition on gun research goes back decades.
Dr. Fred Rivara, a professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology at the University of Washington at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has been involved with injury research for 30 years. He was part of a team that researched gun violence back in the 1990s and personally saw the chilling effects of the NRA’s lobbying arm. Rivara says that the NRA accused the CDC of trying to use science to promote gun control.
“As a result of that, many, many people stopped doing gun research, [and] the number of publications on firearm violence decreased dramatically,” he told The Takeaway in April. “It was really chilling in terms of our ability to conduct research on this very important problem.”
In 2013, some 34,000 Americans died from gunshot wounds. So Takeaway Washington Correspondent Todd Zwillich decided to ask House Speaker John Boehner why his party is trying to block research on gun violence.
“The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” Boehner said at a press conference last week. “I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”
But does the CDC research blame the public health issue of gun violence on the weapons themselves?
“The original concern from the National Rifle Association back in 1996, which Dr. Rivara mentioned, made that very implication,” says Zwillich. “The NRA complained to Congress that the CDC was using the results of its research to essentially advocate for gun control. They called it propaganda. And back at that time, Congress slashed the CDC’s funding by the exact amount that was used for gun-related public health research.”