In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, a longstanding issue came into sharper focus: when it comes to public research on domestic gun violence, the nation was largely flying blind.
It’s well known that the National Rifle Association and its allies have fought to kill any kind of restrictions on firearm ownership. What was less recognized was the fact that the gun lobby also helped block basic data collection, to the point that there’s “no current scientific consensus about guns and violence,” in large part because the NRA “has been able to neutralize empirical cases for control.”
There is no mystery as how this happened. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began expanding its research into gun-related deaths as a public health issue, so conservatives in Congress added language to the appropriations bill that finances the CDC: “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.” That language never changed.
After the events in Newtown, policymakers, including some Republicans like Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), conceded that it’s probably time to revisit this ban on CDC research.
That was last year. This year, as Lois Beckett reported, the slayings at Sandy Hook are further away and Republican opposition to CDC has returned.
In a statement to ProPublica, Kingston said he would oppose a proposal from President Obama for $10 million in CDC gun research funding. “The President’s request to fund propaganda for his gun-grabbing initiatives though the CDC will not be included in the FY2015 appropriations bill,” Kingston said.Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), the vice chairman of the subcommittee, also “supports the long-standing prohibition of gun control advocacy or promotion funding,” his spokeswoman said.CDC’s current funding for gun violence prevention research remains at $0.
Remember, Kingston, just last year, said the parties could find “common ground” on areas like these when trying to prevent mass gun deaths. This year, however, the congressman – who just happens to be in a heated red-state Senate primary – has returned to stale, eye-rolling cliches about “gun-grabbing initiatives.”
To reiterate what we discussed last year, the gun lobby works from an unsettling starting point: less data means less knowledge, which in turn leads to less policymaking.
I realize how naive this will sound, but CDC research on gun violence as a public-health issue doesn’t have to be ideological. Maybe you’re skeptical of new gun laws; maybe you support them. But I’d like to think knowledge has a certain intrinsic value, and there’s no point in having a policy debate in the dark.
Indeed, what does it say about the NRA and its congressional allies when they insist that ignorance is key to their larger ambitions?