Should CDC conduct gun violence prevention research?

It’s been almost 20 years since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s gun violence research was stymied over concerns from conservatives the agency was using its findings for anti-gun ends.

Mark Rosenberg saw it differently. He spent 20 years with the CDC and from 1994 to 1999 he was director of the agency’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, where he developed an approach to violence prevention grounded in science.

Conservatives have largely agreed that gun violence must not be tolerated, but many disagree on the methods best used to prevent it. Many see gun violence research as a political tool being used to stifle gun rights and continue the fight to keep the CDC from conducting it.

Arkansas Republican Rep. Jay Dickey penned the piece of legislation that passed in 1996 and effectively cut $2.6 million of the Injury Prevention Center’s budget to conduct research on gun violence.

Dickey, who left the House almost 15 years ago, has in recent years said he regrets the policy he helped put in place and gave his name to, saying his original intent was to keep gun violence research from being politicized.

Dickey and Rosenberg co-wrote an article in The Washington Post last month lauding the life-saving benefits of scientific research, citing a reduction in vehicle-related deaths with the development of barricades to divide on-coming traffic.

“Our nation does not have to choose between reducing gun-violence injuries and safeguarding gun ownership,” they wrote. “We can do the same with respect to firearm-related deaths, reducing their numbers while preserving the rights of gun owners.”

Motor vehicle deaths have steadily declined and for the first time in 65 years have converged with the number of gun violence deaths.

Part of the cause of decline in car deaths had to do with new technology and the implementation of regulations mandating seat belts, anti-lock brakes and airbags, which all came about after extensive research.

The National Rifle Association argues it’s those things, but not regulation that caused a decrease in vehicle-related death.

“There is no evidence that the decline in motor vehicle deaths is wholly attributable to government regulation as suggested in this article,” NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen told Guns.com in December, when the CDC released a study looking at deaths caused by guns and vehicles. “Bigger and safer cars, such as SUVs and minivans, driving on improved roads, and more Americans living in urban/suburban environments with lower speeds are all more the result of market forces than government regulation. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support the claim that more gun control laws will lead to fewer gun deaths.”

Some have blamed the National Rifle Association for failing to compromise on the issue and pull conservatives further right.

Even if language were added to appropriations to ensure that gun violence research not be conducted with political bias, that wouldn’t be good enough for the NRA, said Duke University researcher Philip Cook.

“Once a study is published, advocates can use it however they see fit,” Cook told Guns.com. “The scientists do not have to be directly involved as advocates – their findings can be used by others to undercut the NRA mythology that guns do much more good than harm.”