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AAAS Joins Call for Federal Gun Research

The AAAS has joined 140 medical, public health, scientific, and academic organizations in urging Congress to drop legislative language that has restricted research on gun violence through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees, the organizations ─ including the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians ─ cited the impact of federal public health research in reducing deaths from car accidents, smoking and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

“Decades ago, we did not know infant car seats should be rear-facing,” the letter notes. “Robust research on car accidents and subsequent legislation has helped save hundreds of thousands of lives without preventing people from being able to drive. It’s time to apply the same approach to reducing gun violence in our communities.”

Rush Holt, CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, said Congress should approve sensible steps to study gun violence as a public health issue. “Quite aside from getting past the political debates over gun control, it is essential that unbiased scientific research be used to gather data on this spreading epidemic that claims so many lives each year,” Holt said.

Research on the epidemiology of gun violence has been underfunded for too long, he said, adding that science also can provide technological solutions to gun violence, including safer guns that can only be fired by authorized users.

“Gun violence is exacting far too high of a toll on the health of our communities,” said Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Congress should act quickly to provide adequate and unrestricted funding for research to better understand the issue and find effective solutions.”

An average of 91 Americans die each day from gun violence, the letter says, and another 108 are injured.

In 1996, Congress passed the so-called Dickey amendment as a rider to the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations bill. The language stated that the CDC could not fund research that would “advocate or promote gun control,” and the language has remained in subsequent annual funding bills. At the same time, Congress cut CDC funding for such research.

Although the Dickey amendment did not explicitly prevent research on gun violence, the combination of the two actions caused a chilling effect on federal research, the letter says, that has “stymied progress on gathering critical data to inform prevention of gun violence for the past 20 years. Furthermore, it has discouraged the next generation of researchers from entering the field.”

“Federal research has addressed many of our Nation’s most pressing public health challenges and it is time do the same with gun violence,” said Alice Chen, executive director of Doctors for America, an advocacy group that helped organize the letter-signing campaign.

[Associated image by Mat McDermott licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.]