If the United States suffered from an epidemic of airplanes falling out of the sky, citizens would expect Congress to investigate and work to improve the safety of planes. The same can be said for various automobile safety measures that have been adopted over the years. And there is little doubt that research into cancer-causing agents has been a boon to public health in this country.
Yet when it comes to gun violence, for two decades Congress has operated under the notion that ignorance is bliss. Under the provisions of what is known as the Dickey Amendment — a rider to a 1996 omnibus spending bill — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot receive funding for studying the causes and possible prevention of gun violence in the United States.
For far too long, this has reflected a moral and ethical failure on the part of Congress. The United States suffers from about 30,000 gun deaths each year — a majority of which are suicides — and treating the situation as anything other than a public health crisis represents a dereliction of duty on the part of lawmakers. Because of that, 23 Democratic senators — including Oregon’s Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, but not including Washington’s Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray — have signed a letter urging that the Dickey Amendment be overturned. “The gun violence epidemic in America knows no geographic boundaries and we believe that the response to this epidemic from Congress should know no political boundaries,” they wrote to Senate leaders.
It should be noted that former Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., for whom the amendment is named, in recent years has lamented his role is prohibiting the pursuit of knowledge. “Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners, in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile,” he wrote to Congressional leaders last year. “Scientific research should help answer how we can best reduce gun violence.”
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Meanwhile, the discussion over gun violence typically devolves into little more than ideological theatrics. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has suggested that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is intent upon overturning the Second Amendment — an assertion that is patently false as he preys upon the fears of gun-rights supporters.
Not that Trump is alone in placing politics above common sense. Following the Orlando nightclub shooting in June, in which 49 people were murdered and another 53 were wounded by a single gunman, the American Medical Association urged Congress to ease the limits on gun-violence research. To which Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who leads health funding for the House Appropriations Committee, responded, “I don’t particularly see the need for it, quite frankly.” The American people deserve better.
The point of funding research into gun violence would not be to rehash mass shootings, nor would it be to find cause for removing guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens. Instead, it would be to find commonalities between incidents of gun violence in an attempt to decipher the underlying causes and prevent the next shooting.
The Second Amendment, after all, reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” While we agree that the right to bear arms is essential, it is clear that this nation is failing on the “well-regulated” part.