The CDC May Finally Get Free Rein to Study Gun Violence

Following ongoing protests over gun violence, a last-minute spending bill seems poised to grant the CDC the authority to conduct research into guns once again.
Following ongoing protests over gun violence, a last-minute spending bill seems poised to grant the CDC the authority to conduct research into guns once again.
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

The government, after decades of resistance, is set to finally encourage the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence. And all it took was near constant mass shootings and the pressure of a federal shutdown.

On Wednesday night, as reported by BuzzFeed News, two new provisions were added to a proposed bipartisan spending bill crafted by the House Rules Committee. The bill, which allots $1.3 trillion to be spent in federal funding up through September 30 of this year, would need to pass through both the House and Senate and be signed into law by President Trump by midnight Friday to keep the government running.

One provision concerns background checks. A measure previously included in the omnibus bill would have mandated that state law enforcement agencies participate in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), but with no incentive to do so. The new provision would compensate states through modest grants for the administrative work needed to submit reports of people with a history of criminal activity or select mental health diagnoses to the NICS database.


The second provision makes explicit a stance voiced last month by the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar—that the CDC can use government money to study gun violence so long as it doesn’t use that money to actively push for gun control.  

A federal amendment passed in 1996 as part of another spending bill—known as the Dickey Amendment—has prevented government funding allocated to the CDC (ostensibly to research injury prevention) to be spent promoting gun control. Though this was not an explicit ban on gun research, the CDC steered away from the topic as a result. A similar provision was passed again in 2012.

During a hearing held by the Energy and Commerce subcommittee, scheduled a day after the Parkland school shooting in Florida, Azar said the language of the Dickey Amendment shouldn’t prevent agencies like the CDC from conducting research into gun violence. Former President Barack Obama signed an executive order telling the National Institutes of Health to resume studying guns in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, but research efforts hardly budged.

“While appropriations language prohibits the CDC and other agencies from using appropriated funding to advocate or promote gun control, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has stated the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence,” said a guidance document outlining how the spending bill will affect the HHS.


The bill also contains measures that will fund new fencing along the Mexican border as well as $2.8 billion to combat the opioid crisis, but doesn’t contain pushed-for proposals to help some low-income workers better afford their insurance premiums provided under the Affordable Care Act. Nor does it contain any actions to help the 600,000 people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program avoid deportation.



Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere

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Okay, but why? What does the CDC intend to study about gun control with it’s microscopes and petri dishes? BAFE isn’t doing their job?