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Gun control in America: What US spends on research, Dickey amendment



Students who walked out of their Montgomery County, Maryland, schools protest against gun violence in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 21,  2018.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
County, Maryland students demonstrate in front of the White House
in Washington DC on February 21, 2018.

Thomson Reuters

  • The US spends less money on gun violence research than
    it does on virtually any other leading cause of death in
  • Research suggests that’s having a crippling effect:
    policymakers don’t have enough evidence about what works when
    it comes to gun control.
  • The only thing researchers can say with confidence is
    that safe gun storage laws keep more children

It’s been a deadly week of gun-fueled hate crimes in America.

On Saturday, a gunman murdered 11 people at a Pittsburgh
synagogue and injured six others, telling a SWAT officer that he
wanted “all Jews to die.”

Before that, a white man rolled into a Kentucky grocery store
last Wednesday and gunned down two unsuspecting black shoppers
reportedly telling
a witness “whites don’t kill

The gun problem
in America goes beyond these high-profile mass shootings, which
only account for about one half of one percent of annual gun
deaths in the US, according to a 2018 study from the non-partisan
. Over the course of a lifetime, your
odds of being murdered by someone with a gun in the US are
strikingly high: about 1 in 315
. That means you’re more
likely to get shot and die in America than you are to get killed
riding in a car or even choking on food. 

One reason it’s tough for Americans to decide what to do about
the country’s gun crisis boils down to a simple, scientific
truth: it’s impossible to know what works if you don’t study

Non-partisan researchers at the Rand Corporation spent two years
poring over the available data on gun policies in the US, trying
to uncover new evidence on what constitutes effective gun
legislation. They looked at thousands of studies, attempting to
evaluate how effective 13 different gun policies — including
background checks, conceal carry laws, and minimum age
requirements — have been.

But they had trouble coming up with any science-backed,
evidence-based strategies that might help reduce violent gun
death rates in the US. Background checks might decrease
suicide rates, but the evidence isn’t clear. Conceal-carry laws
may increase violent crime, but the researchers couldn’t say that
with certainty. 

All they could say for sure
was that rules requiring people
to keep their guns locked and safely out of the hands of children
help reduce firearm self-injuries in kids, including
suicides and other deaths. But when it comes to determining
whether or not the same holds true for adults, the researchers
didn’t have enough evidence to say conclusively one way or the

Why don’t we collect enough data on gun violence?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used to
collect data on gun ownership and use on a state-by-state level.
But the
Dickey Amendment
, pushed by the National Rifle Association
(NRA) and passed by Congress in 1996, almost zeroed-out the CDC’s
gun violence research budget. It also now forbids the CDC from
“advocating or promoting gun control.” 

Since 2003, when the Tiahrt Amendment was passed, the US Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has also been
barred from releasing any gun trace data it collects. That would
be invaluable information for  researchers studying how
criminals buy their weapons and how guns travel across state
lines. The
NRA claims
that Tiahrt protects gun dealers from lawsuits,
but mayors and police
who are trying to crack down on illegal guns want
the amendment scrapped. 

Here’s how much money the US spends studying gun violence in
America today, compared to other leading causes of death in the

US Research dollars per Life Lost Graphic

“Collecting more and stronger evidence about the true
effects of laws is a necessary and promising step toward building
greater consensus around effective gun policy.” Rand project lead
and behavioral scientist Andrew Morral said in a

To that end, the Rand team is now pressing the federal
government to spend more cash on gun control research, hoping
that politicians will take the opportunity to reverse decades of
Congressional bans that leave scientists in the dark.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included
miscalculated data from the Rand Corporation. The correct amount
of money spent on gun violence research for every life lost
in the US is around $63. 

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