Didier Moïse [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

May 31, 2018; The Trace

Last week, Laura Arnold of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation announced at a Forbes Forum on philanthropy that the foundation plans to build a $50 million fund to support gun violence research. The foundation itself will invest the first $20 million for the project, which will be called the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research.

The investment is notable in a field that has suffered from being frozen out of federal funding for research for more than 20 years after Congress passed the Dickey Amendment in 1996. That NRA-backed amendment effectively enacted a ban on CDC funding for research on gun violence and its effects on public health by banning any research that might be used to advocate for gun control. In a spending bill earlier this year, Congress said that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention was free to conduct research on gun violence, but no funds were allocated to the effort and the CDC appears to be sitting on its heels—awaiting perhaps an effusive affirmation from Congress, if this article at Bustle holds any weight.

Jeremy Travis, the foundation’s vice president of criminal justice, said, “The question we were wrestling with is, what can this foundation do to address the issues of gun violence given the newly energized conversation about how awful this problem is? We support research. Federal research has been basically missing. The evidence base for good policy is basically missing.”

“It’s very clear that the federal government has not stepped up to support the research that’s commensurate with the scale of the problem,” said Travis. “Compare this public health emergency to any other public health emergency facing the country, say HIV/AIDS, or traffic deaths, or cancer, or the opioid epidemic. The CDC budget for this is zero.”

Some of the questions to be addressed may be informed by a study done by the National Academy of Sciences to identify research priorities following the Sandy Hook school shooting. That report suggested five areas for research: characteristics of gun violence, risk factors that increase the likelihood of shootings, prevention, safety technology, and the influence of media.

The plan is to convene an advisory committee to oversee the grants process while the RAND Corp. handles the day-to-day operations of the fund.

The Arnolds have made other grants to advance data informed policy. Last year, we reported on their bail reform work, which produced a public safety assessment (PSA) tool to be used by judges to help them to determine whether to release or detain people pretrial. Its use has been steadily expanding.

The Arnolds, of course, are not the only philanthropic force to have invested heavily in work around gun violence. Michael Bloomberg provided seed money to launch Everytown for Gun Violence, which, in turn, launched The Trace, from which much of this story was sourced.—Ruth McCambridge