Congress Is About To Give $25 Million To Research Gun Violence. Not Everyone Is Happy About It

December 19, 2019
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Handguns are displayed at a trade show in Las Vegas.

Gun safety advocates are hailing new federal money to research gun violence prevention. A federal funding bill includes $25 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to look at the problem.

The funding is a big deal, mainly because of a law that Congress passed in 1996 called the Dickey Amendment. It stipulated that the CDC could not use federal funding for research that promoted gun control. That greatly hindered the amount of money lawmakers allocated to this type of research. 

Twenty-five million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but it’s not a whole lot compared to how much other types of research receive. In 2017, $301 million was appropriated for flu research, according to the National Institutes of Health. More than 38,000 Americans died from the flu that year. That same year, 39,700 people died from gun violence.

Dr. Emmy Betz is a professor at CU's Anschutz Medical Campus. She recently worked with gun shop owners, firearms trainers and public health researchers to create a resource for safe gun storage. She said the new money is significant because it’s the first time in a long time funds have been dedicated to this kind of research.

“People are dying and people are being hurt and we need science to figure out how to stop it,” Betz said. “And that's not about gun control. That's about saving people's lives.”

Nearly 11,000 Coloradans have died because of gun violence over the last 20 years, according to the CDC. Colorado’s firearm mortality rate — 13.4 percent — is slightly higher than the national average of 12 percent. 

Earlier this year, Colorado became the 13th state to pass a “red flag” law, which gives authorities permission to temporarily confiscate somebody’s guns if they’re deemed a danger to themselves or others. 

But that law has been met with a lot of pushback.

Dudley Brown leads Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. He says the proposed funding violates the Dickey Amendment, and that the CDC shouldn’t get involved with Second Amendment rights. 

“Equating firearms ownership to some form of disease is what we really object to,” Brown said. “It’s not diseased to want to defend your family or yourself from violence. So, of course we oppose it.”

Colorado Democrats plan to tackle gun control issues during next year’s session, including through bills to better report a stolen or lost firearm.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jason Crow is the co-vice chair on the congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. He signed a letter in support of the funding. 

“It’s a great start,” said Crow, an Army veteran. “There’s a lot that we have to do. We have been in a two-decade period with no evidence and research at the federal level.”

The full U.S. House approved the spending bills on Tuesday. The Senate passed them Thursday afternoon and has sent them to President Trump for his signature.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Dr. Emmy Betz.

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