In 1993, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study by Arthur Kellermann that found that guns in a home increase the risk of homicide happening in that house.
According to the study, having a gun in a home almost triples the chances that someone will be killed there. “This study is the first to clearly link the risk of homicide to the immediate availability of a gun,” Dr. Arthur L. Kellermann said.
“In light of these results, people who are considering buying a gun for protection should think again,” he said in an interview, “and families who keep guns in their homes should strongly consider getting them out of the house.”
Needless to say, the National Rifle Association (NRA) wasn’t very happy with the results.
The study was done with funding from the Centers for Disease Control, so the NRA lobbied Congress to have a rider into the 1996 United States federal government omnibus spending bill which mandated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
This change was known as the Dickey Amendment, named after its author, Republican Senator Jay Dickey from Arkansas. Fearing any gun studies could jeopardize future funding, the CDC cut funding to gun violence studies by about 90 percent.
“The NRA told everybody, ‘You either can do research, or you can keep your guns. But if you let the research go forward, you will all lose all of your guns,’ ” Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the former director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told NPR.
For some perspective, car crashes receive $88 million a year. Cancer gets $355 million annually. Gun violence, the second leading cause of all adolescent and child death in the U.S., receives virtually nothing.
But all of that has recently changed with the passing of the 2020 federal state budget.
In a surprising move, Congress approved $25 million in spending for gun violence research in 2020. $12.5 million will go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and $12.5 million for the National Institutes of Health.
The caveat is that none of the money can be spent on promoting gun control.
“Honestly, it was a complete shock,” says Daniel Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I did not think this was something that the [Republican majority] Senate would agree to.”
“With this investment, the best public health researchers in the country will be put to work to identify ways to reduce injury and death due to firearms,” Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.
$25 million is a modest amount of money but it’s a start at closing the knowledge gap created by 20-plus years without any government studies.
Imagine how many lives could have been saved if the U.S. had worked to create a robust knowledge base on the subject?
Rebecca Cunningham, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan told Popular Science that the money would be enough “to fund about eight or ten standard size NIH grants.” Each grant constitutes about five years of work at $500,000 a year.
Gun violence is a far-reaching topic and the studies are expected to look into homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, mass shootings, and other health and demographic factors.
“They are all going to require their own fields of inquiry and their own solutions,” Cunningham says. “If the country is serious about this, it will require a substantial investment over decades.”
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