Why Our Government Cannot Study Gun Violence: The Dickey Amendment
In 1993, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that guns in the home were associated with an increased risk of homicide in the home. These findings led the National Rifle Association to lobby Congress to discontinue funding for such studies. They ran an article in their official journal, The American Rifleman, asking their members to protest the Center for Disease Control’s use of tax dollars to “conduct anti-gun pseudo-scientific studies disguised as research.” The NRA also asked the National Institute of Health’s Office of Scientific Integrity to investigate the authors of the study, but the organization declined. The NRA has refered to the CDC as “a cesspool of junk science.”
Continued lobbying led to the introduction of the Dickey Amendment, a rider to the 1996 federal goverment spending bill. Named after Jay Dickey, Republican Congressman from Arkansas, the Dickey Amendment mandates that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Despite the Dickey Amendment, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 (28 deaths), President Barack Obama issued executive order #315 for the CDC to research gun violence. The order states, “Each year in the United States there are approximately 30,000 firearm-related deaths, and approximately 11,000 of those deaths result from homicides. Addressing this critical issue requires a comprehensive, multifaceted approach.”
The CDC did fund a project in 2013 and conducted their own research in 2015. But the CDC avoids gun-violence research stating that it lacks dedicated funding.
At the time the Dickey Amendment was introduced, $2.6 million was earmarked for firearms research, but this was subsequently diverted to studies of traumatic brain injury.
In December 2015, despite efforts to have the Dickey Amendment removed, Congress passed the bill with the amendment still in it.
Doctors for America, the American College of Preventative Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have called on Congress to repeal the amendment. And the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution condeming it.
Dickey (who left office in January 2001, and who passed away in April 2017) has said he regrets his role in stopping the CDC from researching gun violence. He said he simply didn’t want to “let any of those dollars go to gun control advocacy.” In a 2012 Washington Post op-ed, following the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora (12 deaths), Dickey argued that the CDC should be able to research gun violence. He said he should not have become “the NRA’s point person in Congress” to suppress valid and valuable work.