Let The CDC Study Gun Violence
by Kirk Lawson
[The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logo (tm)]
Should there be studies on gun violence?
A lot of America gun owners seem as if they are afraid of studies on gun violence. If someone on on social media suggests that there should be studies researching gun violence there is always at least one person who freaks out. What are they afraid of? Are they afraid that research is going to prove that guns cause violence and devastation? If you spend some time talking with them, drilling down to the real fear, you find out that what they are really worried about is biased “studies” which draw conclusions based on cherry picked, or even falsified, data which is then used as political propaganda. Basically the scientific version of fake news. And they do have a few examples to point to such as Michael Bellesiles, a Gun Control advocate and researcher who was caught falsifying data. But if we want to have meaningful discussions we need actual data, not guesswork, gossip, and assumptions. That means we need studies and statistics.
Who should study?
Frankly, the question really should be “who should NOT research and study?” The answer is pretty simple. Anyone who is going to falsify data, massage it to fit a bias, exclude or cherry pick data that would change a desired conclusion, or otherwise intentionally bias the study should not conduct studies. The only way to ensure this is transparency. This means that all raw data and methods must be freely available to anyone who wishes. Research could come from the FBI, Universities, private think tanks, even private persons, and, yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As long as professional rigor is applied and bias is avoided, anyone should.
Can the CDC study gun violence?
One common belief which tends to muddy the discussion is that the CDC is prohibited from from doing research on Gun Violence. It is commonly repeated that in the mid-nineties Republicans passed a law which shackled the CDC and prevents them from researching Gun Violence. What is being referenced is the Dickey Amendment.
What is the Dickey Amendment?
The Dickey Amendment isn’t exactly a law per se. It was a rider attached to the 1996 Omnibus Spending Bill in Congress to fund the Federal Government. It specified 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."  But why on earth would Congress make such a statement. It sounds kind of paranoid, right? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that Mark Rosenberg, National Center for Injury Prevention, a division of the CDC at the time, specifically said that he wanted to use the CDC in just that way when he said, "We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes. It used to be that smoking was a glamour symbol -- cool, sexy, macho. Now it is dirty, deadly -- and banned." If you were alive at the time, you may remember the full-court press of publicly funded anti-smoking ads which worked to change the public perception of tobacco use. That is the very definition of propaganda: “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view”
So, right or wrong, honest or misguided, it was clear that powerful forces in the CDC wanted to use public funding and the power of the CDC’s respected name to change “the way we look at guns” to be something “dirty, deadly -- and banned.” And that is why the Dickey Amendment was instituted.
Does Dickey prevent the CDC from studying?
Technically, no, obviously. The specific wording of the Dickey Amendment clearly does not ban research into Gun Violence. Instead, it specifically, and ONLY, prohibits the use of publicly provided funds to “promote” or “advocate” for Gun Control. Many opponents of the Dickey Amendment argue that it has a “chilling” effect on the CDC, that it was a clear threat through funding to the CDC. But is that the truth?
Have there been any CDC studies since Dickey?
So the claim that the CDC is prohibited from studying Gun Violence isn’t exactly 100% accurate. But is there any truth to the claim that it prevents research by the CDC? Well, the question would be answered definitively if the CDC had performed any research since the 1996 Dickey Amendment. And that answer is, unequivocally, no. The CDC has studied and collected data on at least five different occasions that I could find since the Dickey Amendment.
In 1996 (the very year of the Dickey Amendment!), in 1997, and again in 1998 the CDC studied crime performed with guns, violence with guns, and “defensive gun uses” where someone uses a gun to defend themselves. If the CDC were legally prohibited from research, or even “chilled,” then these studies would have been illegal and the CDC would not have performed them.
In 2013 President Obama directed the CDC to study gun violence and the CDC complied, producing a report titled: Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence. If the CDC were legally prohibited from research, then President Obama could not legally order it, nor could the CDC legally comply.
Again, in 2015 the CDC received a request study and published the results titled: "Elevated Rates of Urban Firearm Violence and Opportunities for Prevention." Again, if the CDC were legally prohibited from studying Gun Violence it would not be very smart to admit to breaking the law in the very title of the study.
OK, it is pretty clear that unless the CDC is full of criminals, the organization is not actually legally prohibited from studying Gun Violence. The fact is they have been studying gun violence all along.
What did they find?
So what were the results of these studies? Well, the studies from 1996-1998 were not actually released until recently. While there is rampant speculation as to why, it appears that these studies actually confirmed pro-gun researcher Gary Kleck’s claim that Americans use a gun in self defense over 2 million times per year, a claim for which he was roundly criticized, and which dwarfs the entire U.S. murder totals by more than 2 orders of magnitude, even by 1996 standards. The 2013 study, similarly found that guns are used for self defense frequently and effectively, far outstripping their criminal misuse and that mass shootings are rare and not a great threat. Finally, the 2015 study found, among other things, that access to guns was not a critically important determining factor for violence but, instead, other factors such as poverty and unemployment were far more important correlating factors.
So What Does It All Mean?
Well, for starters, it means that, first, the CDC is not in any meaningful way prohibited from researching Gun Violence, and second, that American gun owners shouldn’t have anything to fear from honestly conducted research from the CDC because it sure looks like it confirms most of what they have been claiming for years.