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AAAS Affirms the Importance of Research to Better Understand and Curb Gun Violence

Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science, sent letters to U.S. President Barack Obama and two congressional representatives commending their efforts to end a long-standing federal freeze on gun violence research.

“I write to applaud you for supporting research as part of your Administration’s initiatives on reducing gun violence,” Leshner wrote in his 17 January letter to Obama. Leshner agreed, as Obama noted in a recent executive action, that “critical public health research” is needed to better understand and potentially help reduce gun violence. Such studies also should include social, behavioral, and economic sciences, Leshner added.

Obama’s presidential memorandum calls on scientific agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to study the causes of gun violence and how best to prevent it. The work should begin “by identifying the most pressing research questions with the greatest potential public health impact, and by assessing existing public health interventions being implemented across the Nation to prevent gun violence,” the president’s memo states.

The president’s plan, released 16 January, urges an “end [to] the freeze on gun violence research.” Such work might include, for example, studies to understand the causes of and potential preventive strategies for gun violence, including scrutiny of any association between video games, media images, and violence, as well as the collection of more comprehensive data on firearm-related deaths. The administration has recommended that Congress allocate $10 million to support such research through the CDC.

In a second letter to Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-New York) and Representative Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), AAAS supported the proposed Firearm Safety and Public Health Research Act. This bill would “amend appropriations language that serves to discourage federal research on gun violence,” and underscores the importance of such work, Leshner wrote.

Maloney’s announcement about the bill, co-sponsored by an array of congressional representatives, said it would “release federal agencies from the restrictions placed on them in 1996 that have prohibited these agencies from conducting high-quality, peer-reviewed research into gun violence prevention.”

Historically, the CDC had conducted research to try and learn, for example, whether people with guns in their homes were, in fact, safer than those without weapons. In 1992, Arthur L. Kellermann and colleagues published an influential study of 803 suicides, concluding that gun owners were nearly five times more likely to commit suicide, compared with those in gun-free homes.

A 2002 study supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation concluded that guns are “the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 19″ —second only to motor vehicle accidents—killing or injuring 20,000 each year.

In a 2012 Washington Post op-ed, former U.S. Representative Jay Dickey (R-Arkansas) and Mark Rosenberg, president and CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, wrote that “the United States has spent about $240 million a year on traffic safety research, but there has been almost no publicly funded research on firearm injuries.”


Read the letter to President Barack Obama from AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner.

Read the letter to Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Rep. Ed Markey from AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner.