Health and Science News for Parents

Disheartening find regarding firearm injury prevention research

written by Tara Haelle

I am part of a newly formed group called Parents Against Gun Violence, so some of the blog pieces I write for them (which are then posted on our Facebook page) are ones I may cross-post on this blog if they are health/science-related. That is the case with today’s posts and the next two I’ll be posting this week.

I’ve been reading and writing about public statements, letters and commentary from medical associations and researchers in the wake of the Newtown shooting. The most discouraging piece I’ve come across alerted me to actions taken in Washington DC more than a decade ago that I simply had not known about until a commentary published in JAMA about pro-gun legislators successfully strangling research related to firearm injury prevention.

As our organization has been working to uncover research related to firearm injury, we’ve often struggled to find solid, good, reliable data on firearm injuries and deaths in the U.S. in terms of weapons used or risks posed by having or not having a gun in the home. (Because we are non-partisan and research-based, with both gun owners and non-gun-owners in the group, we do not have a political agenda that aligns with either of the polar extremes on this issue. We are seeking solutions that are both effective and popular enough across the spectrum that they will have the support to pass, should Washington take them up.)

Now we have a better idea of WHY it’s been so hard to find good, recent data: in short, pro-gun members of Congress have successfully gutted any funding into firearm injury prevention, starting in 1996 and continuing through today.

The JAMA commentary, published December 21, describes how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was silenced in the late 1990s when the CDC lost $2.6 million for research into firearm injury — and that was after Congress members failed to completely eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control as they had tried to do first.

It was no coincidence that the $2.6 million removed from the CDC’s budget in 1996 happened to be the direct amount previously budgeted for firearm injury prevention research. Though that precise amount was added back into the budget as the bill moved forward, it was “earmarked for traumatic brain injury.” The final bill even included the 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.”

Such expansive language basically shut down any firearm research at the CDC, lest such research be considered something that advocated for gun control and thereby cost them their careers. And it didn’t stop there. Two years after a 2009 study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism looked at the association between risk of firearm assault and carrying a firearm, Congress expanded the funding restriction to all agencies at the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health.

The article is worth a thorough read to learn just how successfully pro-gun members of Congress and the gun lobby have managed to completely shut down well-funded scientific research into prevention of injury and death related to guns. It’s true that violent crime and gun-related crime has been on a continual decline in the U.S. over the past two decades. But any crime is too much, and it’s reasonable to expect we might have made even more progress had our top public health researchers and health-related government agencies been allowed the opportunity to research how.

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2 Responses to “Disheartening find regarding firearm injury prevention research”

  1. Dr. Barry Pless

    Hi. I am the blog editor for a BMJ journal called Injury Prevention. Although I am a Canadian, as a pediatrician I am extremely interested in the gun control debate in the U.S and I have worked with the author of the JAMA report you cited in your blog. It was so good that I am now seeking your permission to post it in its entirety on our site. I would only add a brief editorial comment at the end saying how much I agree that this issue must be resolved. Cutting off scientific information is no way to solve a problem. Congratulations on an excellent and well written contribution.

  2. Tara Haelle

    Dr. Pless, certainly you may repost this entry. I will send it to you in an email form if that’s easier. Thank you for sharing our concerns on a blog with a broad audience. It’s essential that more people realize that we can only come together to solve problems when we are allowed to learn as much as possible about them.

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