Why there’s so little gun violence research

Although students and others around the country are calling for more gun control and more gun violence research after a deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.—and although thousands of people die in gun-related incidents every year—there’s a dearth of comprehensive data on gun injuries and deaths in the U.S.

One major reason for this lack of data is a 1996 Congressional budget rider called the Dickey Amendment. Named for its sponsor, Arkansas Republican Congressman Jay Dickey, the amendment forbade the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—the agency charged with protecting America from health threats—to use funds for injury prevention and control “to advocate or promote gun control.”

At the same time that the Dickey Amendment went into effect, Congress lowered the CDC’s budget for the coming fiscal year by $2.6 million, which was the same amount the agency had spent on gun-related research the previous year.

“It made it really clear that if the CDC does any research on guns, it is going to be called in front of Congress and the Appropriations Committee and it is going to be threatened that large amounts of its funding [are] going to be eliminated,” said David Hemenway, professor of health policy and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC) at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a March 20, 2018 Healthline article.

Hemenway was also quoted in a PBS NewsHour article on the lack of gun violence research. He noted that the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System currently tracks gun-related injuries and deaths in 41 states but not in the rest due to federal funding constraints—which is a problem because it leaves the national picture on gun-related violence incomplete.

In a March 23, 2018 interview on the National Public Radio show “Science Friday,” Hemenway’s colleague Catherine Barber, director of the HICRC’s Means Matter project, said that her group’s work with the New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition and a similar group in Utah is bringing gun owners and people who care about gun rights into the process of developing research questions and thinking through the data on gun violence.

Read the Healthline article: Why the CDC Isn’t Studying Gun Violence

Read the PBS NewsHour article: What we don’t know about gun violence

Listen to the“Science Friday” interview: Shaping The Future Of Gun Research

Learn more

Gun violence is a public health issue (Harvard Chan School news)

Federal funding needed for gun violence research (Harvard Chan School news)

Gun owner groups, health professionals team up to prevent suicides (Harvard Chan School feature)