The Finding that Brought Down Gun Research

Mar 5, 2018

In the weeks since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the national debate about guns has begun to shift. One issue that has come to the fore is funding for research on gun violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a program focused on injury prevention and control, but gun safety research has not been part of their work for more than twenty years. 


Mark Rosenberg was the founding director of the CDC's Center for Injury Prevention and Control. He says the clampdown on gun research began with one key finding: "We found that not only does having a gun in your home not protect you," said Rosenberg. "It puts you at grave, grave risk of being killed with a gun."

To some, that statement of evidence sounded unsettlingly like a policy recommendation; something Rosenberg says he and his colleagues never intended. In 1996, Congress responded by defunding the CDC's gun research program and adding an amendment to the budget bill, the Dickey Amendment, that forbade CDC scientists from advocating for or against gun policies. Rosenberg lost his job, and gun research largely came to a halt. According to Rosenberg, that has left those trying to address the issue of gun violence flying blind. We don't even have authoritative numbers on the prevalence of mass shootings, let alone hard data about the impacts of different gun policies.

Rosenberg argues that the CDC can provide much-needed data without taking sides in policy debates. A growing chorus is calling for renewed funding to enable CDC to do just that.