Revisiting the Dickey Amendment: Should CDC Resume Gun Violence Research?

By Elizabeth Lehman

With recent discussion of gun violence and regulation across the United States, the voice of one particular organization is absent from the conversation: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, the CDC is a federal agency that aims to protect public health and safety through controlling and preventing injury, disease and disability.

The CDC researched gun violence as a public health issue until 1996 when Congress passed the Dickey Amendment.

According to the American Psychological Association, the legislation was the result of a push by the National Rifle Association to eliminate the CDC following the organization’s funding of a 1993 study linking gun ownership to increased likelihood of homicide in the home.

The amendment was a provision inserted as a rider into the federal Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 1997.

The rider stated, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the CDC may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

The amendment did not explicitly ban research on gun violence, but it did allow Congress to redirect the $2.6 million the CDC had used the previous year to research gun violence towards prevention of traumatic brain injury.

Rachel Petri, press secretary for Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, said Brown supports a repeal of the Dickey Amendment.

“Senator Brown is an original cosponsor of a bill that would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct and support research into firearm safety and gun violence protection,” Petri said.

Petri said Brown was part of a group of senators who requested the Government Accountability Office study the effectiveness of public health programs designed to impact gun safety. The results of the study were released in Sept. 2017.

Tim Ryan, Democratic Rep. for Ohio’s 13th Congressional District, said he also supports a repeal of the Dickey Amendment and has voted on it in his appropriations committee a number of times in recent years. He said the CDC should be engaged in helping the public understand gun violence, but can’t.

“Obviously, when you look at not just the mass shootings, but you look at suicides by handgun, this is clearly a national problem that we have and it’s a huge public health problem,” Ryan said.

Ryan said without a Democratic Congress, Senate and President in place, a repeal of the Dickey Amendment is unlikely.

The Jambar reached out to Republican Sen. Rob Portman for comments about the Dickey Amendment. While Portman did not comment directly, The Jambar received three copies of a letter regarding gun violence from Portman in response.

In the letter, Portman said he supports efforts to reduce crime and make society safer.

“This Congress, I have co-sponsored legislation entitled the Fix NICS Act (S.2135), which I believe is commonsense, bipartisan legislation that can make a difference right away to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals,” Portman said.

Portman said the legislation will push state and local government entities to follow federal law and step up their reporting of information to the FBI that would disqualify individuals from passing a national instant criminal background check.

Portman’s letter also discussed the need to find the root causes of gun violence.

“I have supported past efforts to get at the underlying problem of a culture of violence prevalent in our society by voting to authorize a study to look at the glorification of gun violence in popular culture, as well as risk factors that lead to mass shootings,” he said.

Ryan said pushing for more CDC research is not a matter of taking away hunters’ rifles. He said it’s a matter of getting a public health perspective into issues like mass shootings and suicides by guns.

He said if deaths were occurring at these rates due to an issue like a viral or bacterial infection, there would be a call for research to better understand the problem.

“It’s a degree of understanding and education, not of one to take anyone’s gun away. We are an intelligent people; when presented with problems, when we understand the problem, we can begin to start the process of finding a solution,” Ryan said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we want to do with this issue.”