AAAS Urges U.S. Policymakers to Lift Restrictions on Gun Violence Research

AAAS CEO Rush Holt urged policymakers to lift restrictions on federal funding for research on gun violence. | Chet Susslin/National Journal

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has reiterated its support for lifting existing restrictions on federally funded research of gun violence.

“While our nation considers how to address gun violence, it is important to remember that scientific research can help us understand risk factors and the impacts of gun policy interventions at federal, state and local levels,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of AAAS, in a March 13 letter sent to President Donald Trump and congressional leadership.

Federally funded research on gun violence has been essentially frozen for more than 20 years since the passage of the Dickey amendment, which added language to a 1996 omnibus spending bill requiring that “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.” Similar language has appeared in CDC funding bills over the last two decades.

A recent study of gun violence research by RAND Corporation released March 2 found a shortage of evidence about the effects of most gun laws.

“While science can teach us a lot about gun policy, research in this area is generally far behind where it is for most other causes of death that claim similar numbers of lives in the U.S. each year,” Andrew Morral, a behavioral scientist at RAND and the study’s leader, said in a statement.

The limited evidence base “reflects shortcomings in the contributions that scientific study has made to the policy debate,” Morral added.

AAAS has previously voiced support for federally funded research on gun violence, signing on to a 2016 letter to congressional leadership from 140 medical, public health, scientific and academic organizations urging lawmakers to drop restrictive language that stymies federally funded research on guns. AAAS also hosted a symposium at the AAAS 2017 Annual meeting on the current state of gun violence research as well as a panel at its 2016 Forum on Science & Technology Policy that included Rep. Jay Dickey, who has since renounced his former position and called for a renewal of federal funding for gun violence research.

The March 13 letter comes in advance of the National School Walkout. The March 14 protest, organized in the wake of the February school shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is expected to draw students, teachers and parents to call upon lawmakers to pass gun control legislation.

“The lack of scientific research should not be read as a reason to postpone civil discourse and legislative action; however, research can help to provide additional insights into the outcomes of policies,” Holt said. “If permitted to do so, researchers would collect and analyze unbiased data on gun violence, information that is critically needed to help save thousands of lives prematurely taken from our country each year. Our children’s and our nation’s future depends on it.”

[Associated image: James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]