In the wake of the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the debate over gun control in the United States has again reached fever pitch. What’s often missing in that debate, however, is hard data on gun-related deaths.
The Dickey amendment
In 1996, Congress passed a rider to the annual federal spending bill that prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from spending money on research that may be used to “advocate or promote gun control.” Known as the Dickey amendment, after Jay Dickey, the Arkansas representative who sponsored it, the measure has remained in place ever since.
While the amendment focuses on advocacy and does not explicitly ban research on gun violence, it has had a chilling effect on scientific research in this area. After the passage of the amendment, federal funding dried up and CDC researchers stopped working on the control and prevention of gun-related injuries and deaths.
The Dickey amendment has not halted research on gun violence completely, as private foundations and universities have continued to explore the matter. Nonetheless, public-health organizations have started to push for overturning the amendment, so that the CDC could freely inquire into gun-related deaths as it does for other preventable causes of death.
Opposition to the amendment
Support for reversing the amendment may be growing in the political arena as well. New Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recently said that the amendment doesn’t prevent the agency from conducting such research and that he is in favor of research into gun-related deaths. Meanwhile, the Gun Violence Research Act, a bill sponsored last year by Florida Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy that would repeal the Dickey amendment, has received support from Republican lawmakers for the first time.
And some Democrats have said that reversing the Dickey amendment is under discussion as Democrats and the GOP negotiate a bipartisan bill to strengthen the country’s firearms background-check system. However, Republican support for reversing the amendment does not appear widespread.
Dickey, who died in 2017, said before his death that he regretted the effects of the amendment that bears his name.