Former Surgeons General urge Congress to fund gun research

The past four U.S. Surgeons General grouped together last week to urge Congress to renew funding for the Centers for Disease Control’s gun violence research, an effort that was effectively defunded in the mid 1990s.

The group, comprised of Surgeons General appointed by both Democrat and Republican administrations, released their open letters Friday, the end of National Public Health Week, through the gun control organization Americans for Responsible Solutions.

“Due to a restrictive budget amendment put into place by Congress, since 1996 federal investments into gun violence research have effectively been frozen,” reads one letter, adding, “As former Surgeons General, we know that saving Americans’ lives requires that we fully understand the scope and causes of gun violence.”

The letter — penned by Surgeons General Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, and Regina Benjamin — cite familiar statistics such as gun violence killing 33,000 Americans annually at a price tag of $174 billion.

The lone Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, penned his own letter under a similar tone.

“The morbidity, mortality and cost of firearms related death and disability in the United States constitutes a major public health challenge,” Carmona states in his letter. “The gun issue in the United States has become exceedingly politicized with each side arguing its position more on emotion rather than needed epidemiologic science.”

He adds that without appropriate research on the issue, “we really have no idea what policies and/or regulation may be needed in order to ensure the public’s safety.”

Alongside the letters, former Congressman Jay Dickey, who wrote the 1996 budget amendment to defund the CDC’s gun violence research, issued a statement as well. Last year he began a crusade with former CDC head Mark Rosenberg to overturn the measure.

“We believe strongly that funding for research into gun-violence prevention should be dramatically increased,” they say in the statement. “We do not see the congressional language against using federal funds ‘to promote or advocate gun control’ as a barrier to this research.”

Dickey said his original intention with cutting funding for the CDC was to prevent money going to gun control advocacy, but not to prevent the study of gun violence by the agency entirely.

Earlier this month, 141 groups in the health care industry sent letters to Congress to drop the federal ban on gun violence research. In October, more than 100 House democrats urged Congressional leaders to lead an effort to overturn the ban.

President Obama issued a list of 23 executive orders in January 2013, just a month after the Sandy Hook massacre, giving the CDC $10 million and directing the federal agency to conduct its gun violence research.