This Insidious, 20-Year-Old Rule Is Still Blocking Crucial Research on Gun Violence Today

The horrific mass shooting that killed more than 58 people in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 has brought the topic of gun control legislation — and America's severe lack of it — back to the forefront of our national conversation once more. There have been 273 mass shootings in the US during 2017 (so far), and yet Americans find it's still mind-bogglingly difficult to even have a fact-based discussion on the topic. This is largely because of one incredibly problematic rule: the Dickey Amendment.

Named after its writer, Republican Rep. Jay Dickey, the Dickey Amendment has a pretty depraved origin story. After a 1993 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) found that keeping guns in the home made people less safe and strongly correlated with higher rates of homicide in the home, the National Rifle Association (NRA) pulled out all the stops to squash the NCIPC altogether. While the NRA was unsuccessful in its campaign to fully eliminate the NCIPC, it was able to heavily influence Congress with the help of a boatload of money. According to the American Psychological Association, after much campaigning from the NRA, Congress included a directive in its 1997 appropriations bill banning the CDC from using funds for research "used to advocate or promote gun control." Congress also moved to strip the amount of money the CDC had used to research gun risk the previous year from its budget and dedicate it to the research of traumatic brain injury instead.

While the CDC isn't explicitly banned from researching gun violence, the rule still restricts researchers from specifically examining the public health risks associated with gun ownership and use, something that the medical community continues to push back against. The American College of Physicians has said that "firearm violence is not only a criminal justice issue but also a public health threat," and the American Medical Association has called the uncontrolled ownership and use of firearms "a serious threat to public health."

Interestingly, it appears that even the author of the Dickey amendment has had a change of heart, later joining the medical community in supporting further research on the issue. In an editorial Dickey cowrote for The Washington Post in 2012 with the former president of the NCIPC, Mark Rosenberg, the pair expressed their frustration that scientists still cannot answer "whether having more citizens carry guns would decrease or increase firearm deaths" as a result of the NRA's meddling in Congress. Dickey wrote that we "must learn what we can do to save lives."

While it's heartening that at least one individual has seen the light on this crucial issue, we simply must do more to put an end to the seemingly endless bloodshed and heartbreak caused by mass shootings in America — allowing scientists to conduct research surrounding mass shootings and gun violence seems like a great place to start. We can all urge our elected representatives to push for the Dickey Amendment to be lifted and make sensible gun reform a reality. Learn how you can reach your representatives here.