Doctors Petition To Eliminate Ban On Gun Violence Research


gun violence cost

Although injury prevention research has been proven effective in creating change in various public health issues, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has not studied gun violence in the past 20 years. It’s not because there is lackluster interest in the subject or because it isn’t a prevalent epidemic. It’s because of one small provision that has been tacked on to legislation since 1996.

Despite executive action from President Barack Obama in 2013, researchers have stayed far away from allocating funds to gun violence research. This “self-imposed ban” has been a frustrating issue for many groups of people including advocates, lawmakers, and public officials. However, a new voice has emerged in the discussion: doctors. Doctors For America (DFA) has started a petition to lift the CDC ban and hopes to have their considerations heard before the Appropriations Bill is signed on December 10.

In 1996, the National Rifle Association called on its congressional supporters to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. This center, which operates through the CDC, states that its main focuses are motor vehicle injury, prescription drug overdose, child abuse and neglect, older adult falls, sexual violence, and youth sports concussions.

While the pro-gun lawmakers failed to disband the whole center, it did manage to remove $2.6 million from its budget. Incidentally, that is the exact amount of money that was allocated to spend on firearm injury research. Soon after, the funding was re-awarded for research but was specifically earmarked for research on traumatic brain injury. If this sounds fishy, just wait. To make sure that the money did not end up going to gun violence prevention, the final appropriation included the following language:

“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.”

On January 13, 2013, President Obama signed an executive order to reinstate gun violence research. “Recent research suggests that, in developing such an approach,a broader public health perspective is imperative,” President Obama wrote, “Significant strides can be made by assessing the causes of gun violence and the successful efforts in place for preventing the misuse of firearms. Taking these steps will improve our understanding of the gun violence epidemic and will aid in the continued development of gun violence prevention strategies.”

The order was written to the Secretary of Health and Human Services at the time, Kathleen Sebelius. The order gave Sebelius authority to ” [C]onduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it. The Secretary shall 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.”

And yet, the CDC still avoids gun violence research. Three years later, advocacy groups are not having it anymore.

DFA, whose mission is to “mobilize doctors and medical students to be leaders in putting patients over politics on the pressing issues of the day to improve the health of our patients, communities, and nation,” has created a petition to end the bans on gun research.

The petition, aimed to lift the CDC gun research ban and fund the research we need to save lives,” hit its goal of 400 online signatures within eight hours of being live on the internet. DFA Executive Director, Dr. Alice Chen, understands the political nature of the petition, but focuses on the petition’s flexibility.

“When we look at gun violence, it is pretty astounding that for something that kills and injures so many Americans, the CDC is not allowed to do research,” she said. After the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, President Obama called on the country to look at ourselves and address the violence. “We looked at the different possibilities of what [DFA] could fight for, and the CDC ban is such a no brainer,” she said.

Politicians in Washington agree. At the end of October, 110 of the 188 Democrat House members signed a letter asking House members to “reject short-sighted and unnecessary riders that freeze gun violence research.”

Representative David Price (D-NC) was the author of the letter. Although no Republicans signed the letter, Price maintains that there is a bipartisan obligation.  “We should all be able to agree that our response should be informed by sound scientific evidence,” he said.

“If the NRA and gun champions are so confident of their position, why would they refuse research?” Price said. “This is a particularly intrusive interference.”

DFA recognizes the disseminating nature of gun violence. Doctors and public health professionals experience gun violence in a variety of ways, and it’s not always just in treating a gunshot wound. “Doctors of all specialities and all kinds of practice settings see how much gun violence affects individuals in the moment. It’s not just ER doctors and trauma surgeons,” she said, “it’s pediatricians, psychiatrists, internal medicine doctors, everyone.”

Because certain gag rules prevent doctors from discussing gun safety, their hands are tied both in the exam room and in academia. “It just makes sense for us to have data,” said Dr. Chen, “As physicians, we do everything based on data. Why is gun violence any different?”

Injury prevention research has been proven effective in many different areas. An article in the Journal of American Medical Association by Dr. Arthur L. Kellermann and Dr. Frederick P. Rivara points to the discrepancies with firearms. “Decades of research have been devoted to understanding the factors that lead some people to commit violence against themselves or others. Substantially less has been done to understand how easy access to firearms mitigates or amplifies both the likelihood and consequences of these acts,” they wrote.

“Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans dying in motor vehicle crashes has decreased by 31 percent. Deaths from fires and drowning have been reduced even more, by 38 percent and 52 percent, respectively,” Kellermann and Rivera explain, “This progress was achieved without banning automobiles, swimming pools, or matches. Instead, it came from translating research findings into effective interventions.”

Dr. Chen reiterated the importance of treating gun violence as a public health issue. “We have had public health issues that we have dealt with in the past. Gun violence is no different. Even though it is politically charged, we can come together from both sides of the aisle to make sure that people don’t get shot every day,” she said. “Ultimately having 89 people die a day is unacceptable.”

You can learn more about Doctors for America and sign the petition here.


Reprinted with permission from Generation Progress