Congress agrees to millions in gun violence research for the first time in decades

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The $25 million for federal research into gun violence that's included in the massive spending bill agreed to on Capitol Hill represents the first time in over two decades that Congress has allocated funding for the issue.

The House will vote Tuesday on the $1.4 trillion spending deal that includes $12.5 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $12.5 million for the National Institutes of Health. The funding comes as the nation continues to grapple with the effects of frequent mass shootings.

"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 Rep. Nita Lowey, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee who secured the funding in the spending bill, said in a statement.

The provision maintains the long-standing prohibition on any funds being used to advocate or promote gun control.

Once the spending deal clears the House, it will need to be approved by the Senate before it can go to President Donald Trump for his expected signature.

"We applaud Congress for finally providing the critical funding we have been requesting," Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said in a statement Monday. "This will support public health research that is essential to answering questions about the best ways to reduce the morbidity and mortality from firearms in the United States."

Dr. Robert McLean, the president of the American College of Physicians, applauded the funding bill and said in a statement that "the alarming rate of injuries and deaths related to firearms brings to light the glaring lack of research and data."

"For over twenty years, we've desperately needed up-to-date research about firearm violence and intervention and prevention strategies to reduce physical as well as emotional injuries caused by firearms," McLean said.

"While $25 million is a great start, it pales in comparison to the amount needed to address this public health problem," said Dr. Joseph Sakran, the founder of This Is Our Lane, a movement started by physicians in response to the National Rifle Association.

For more than two decades, the CDC has avoided firearms research because of its interpretation of the so-called Dickey Amendment, named after the late Republican Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas.

In 1996, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment and removed $2.6 million — the amount the CDC spent on gun research the year prior — from the CDC's budget.

While the legislation doesn't explicitly ban federal research funds from being used for research related to gun violence, it states, "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control."

The amendment had a chilling effect on gun research at the CDC as the agency held back to avoid losing further funding.

But before he passed away in 2017, Dickey reversed his position and urged the government to carry out research on gun violence.

The National Rifle Association has argued that the amendment itself didn't prevent gun violence research — only advocacy — and therefore does not need any changes.

Last year, Congress passed a spending bill accompanied by language giving a green light to the CDC to research gun violence — although there was no money specifically budgeted for the research.

"While appropriations language prohibits the CDC and other agencies from using appropriated funding to advocate or promote gun control, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has stated the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence," the accompanying instructions stated, referring to Secretary Alex Azar's 2018 comments to Congress.

The Democratic-controlled House in February passed a universal background checks bill, HR 8, which would require background checks on all firearm sales in the country. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring any gun bill to the Senate for a vote unless Trump says he would sign it into law.

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