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Most Americans Want to Lift The Federal Ban on Gun Violence Research

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20 FEB 2018

A new poll has found 55 percent of American voters want to lift the de facto federal ban on gun violence research known as the Dickey Amendment.

The national survey, which was released this week by the pro-science organization 314 Action, asked participants if they believe the law should be changed so scientists can conduct research into preventing gun violence.


Of those who replied in the affirmative, 62 percent were aged 18 to 45, suggesting younger voters are particularly worried about the issue – especially after the most recent and devastating mass shooting that left 17 people dead at a high school in Florida.

"Gun violence is a public health crisis, and it's clear from our data that the public believes it needs to be treated like one," said founder of 314 Action Shaugnessy Naughton in a statement.

"We should be able to address gun violence the way we would any other public health crisis. Congress just needs the backbone to stand up to the gun industry," she added.

The ban on gun violence research started in 1996, when the Republican-controlled Congress threatened to remove funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unless the agency stopped funding research into firearm injuries and deaths. As a consequence, gun violence research came to a virtual standstill, and for two decades activists have been fighting to restore federal dollars to the cause.

Now, the Florida shooting has reopened the Dickey debate, putting pressure on members of Congress up for re-election this year. 314 Action's poll found 63 percent of those that support repealing the Dickey Amendment were "very excited" to vote in the upcoming midterm elections.


"Scientists are taught that if you don't have enough information to solve a problem, you research it," said Naughton, and that's just one of the reasons her organization wants more scientists in office.

Dr. Mai Khanh Tran, who is running for Congress in California's 38th District, is one of the organization's endorsed candidates.

"As a paediatrician I find the gun violence in our country, particularly in reference to school shootings, absolutely unacceptable," she told Science AF.

"We need to have funding and research to make sure we can combat the issue of gun violence and I really think we need to take this issue on with the same full drive and understanding of data that we apply to healthcare."

Tran's own district in San Bernadino suffered a school shooting that killed three innocent people last year, so she feels personally invested in the issue.

"We need to have stronger leadership from the top when it comes to this, and when people resort to just prayers and condolences and empty speech we need to have people in place to speak with science and data and drive," she said.


It's not just Democrats that feel this way. Even Republicans are coming around to the idea that gun violence research could save lives.

"We believe we've got a very important mission with our work with serious mental illness as well as our ability to do research on the causes of violence and the causes behind tragedies like this, so that is a priority for us especially at the Centers for Disease Control," said Alex Azar, the current Health and Human Services Secretary.

"I agree with Secretary Azar — it's time to permit the CDC to study gun violence as a public health problem," said Leonard Lance, a Republican representative up for re-election this year.

"By removing restrictions that prevent the federal government from studying mental health issues that lead to gun violence, Congress could have a clearer picture of what effective policies and solutions might be taken to stem the tide of violence."

And stem it we must. In 2016, the US experienced 3.85 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 people, ranking 31st in the world. Last year alone the US experienced 346 mass shootings.

Things are obviously bleak when even the amendment's author publicly recants his position on gun violence research. In the words of Jay Dickey himself: "We need to turn this over to science and take it away from politics."