St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

December 16, 2019; Washington Post and The Hill

As it turns out, the right people were paying attention after all.

Since the mid-1990s, the effect of the Dickey amendment (named after Jay Dickey, the Republican Iowa senator who wrote it) has been to cut off government funding for research into the public health impact of firearms. Back in 2015, we reported on efforts by doctors to have this bar lifted. Now, almost five years later, that work has borne some fruit: as reported by the Washington Post and The Hill, $25 million has been allotted to federal agencies to study gun violence.

The $25 million will be divided evenly between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health.

The language of the Dickey amendment prohibits funds from being used to “advocate for gun control,” which one imagines an unbiased study of the effects of firearms on public health might do. Efforts to have Dickey undone haven’t met with much success, but in March, Democratic leadership shifted their efforts to clarifying that Dickey did not explicitly bar research into the area. Language to that effect was attached to the spending bill, keeping Dickey in place in what some called a “guardrail” to keep Republicans and the NRA comfortable.

“Taking action should never have taken more than 20 years,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). “The significance of this achievement cannot be understated, and it follows on the progress we made earlier this year by holding the first hearing on gun violence research in more than two decades.”

DeLauro said the funding will help the federal government understand the correlation between domestic violence and gun violence, how Americans can more safely store guns and how to reduce suicide by firearms.

“This is a major step forward to helping reduce the pain and suffering families endure every day due to the scourge of gun violence,” she said.

She noted Saturday was the seven-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which left 20 children and six adults dead.

Of course, as the Post reports, the $25 million “falls short of the $50 million requested by Democrats in their original spending bill. And it is relatively small compared with other federally funded research. In 2018, for example, the NIH devoted $3 billion toward research on HIV/AIDS and $5.9 billion on brain disorders.” Still, as Mark Rosenberg, who was working on this issue in 1996 before the funding was cut, observes, “It starts the stream flowing again. It ends the horrendous position we’re in, where we don’t even know what works.”—Jason Schneiderman