As you can see, statistics on gun ownership and gun violence are abundant and come in many forms. The point is not to show you that we have a gun problem in America. I think you already know that. What I want you to see is that little of the information above is coming from the very agency designed to study public health, the CDC. (Even in the video above, you’ll note that only one chart was taken from the CDC.)
The CDC or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as its name suggests, is known for fighting disease. Here’s the mission statement of the organization:
CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.
CDC increases the health security of our nation. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.
So yes, the CDC focuses on health topics from arthritis to the Zika virus, but its purview is actually much broader. Accidental falls, car crashes, traumatic brain injuries, and drawings are all things studied by the agency. It would therefore be logical that gun violence and gun deaths would also be part of the CDC’s research, and at one time they were. Then along came the deep pockets of the NRA and its cohorts in the gun lobby. These groups pressured (some would say bribed) politicians on the Hill to deny that gun violence is a public health issue from which we need to be protected. The NRA then created the perfect Catch 22. It goes something like this. A shooting occurs. One side argues for stricter gun control measures. The other side argues that there’s no evidence that those measures make a difference. The problem is there is little evidence to be had. The gun lobby made sure of that.
In the 1990’s several studies published by public health researchers showed that having a gun in the house was directly related to increased rates of homicide and suicide. But what really put the CDC in the gun advocates’ sights (pardon the pun) was a 1994 statement by then director of the CDC’s National Center for Inquiry and Prevention Control Mark Rosenberg, who said, “We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes ... It used to be that smoking was a glamour symbol—cool, sexy, macho. Now it is dirty, deadly—and banned.” Rosenberg’s statement threw the NRA into overdrive. In 1996 the group pushed Congress to amend a spending bill which mandated that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control." The amendment was authored by Republican Congressman Jay Dickey of Arkansas. In that same bill, Congress removed $2.6 million from the CDC budget-the very amount that the agency was allocated the previous year for firearms research.
The CDC has struggled with the gun issue ever since because of the Dickey Amendment. In 2013, President Obama directed the agency to research gun violence, but funds were limited. In October of 2015, 110 members of Congress (all Democrats) signed a letter asking for the Dickey Amendment to be rejected. In December of that same year, Nancy Pelosi lobbied hard to have the amendment removed from the 2016 spending bill, but to no avail.
After the 2015 massacre at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, an amendment was proposed in the House Appropriations Committee that would have provided funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the underlying causes of gun violence. Then Speaker of the House, John Boehner explained his opposition to the legislation in this way:
“The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” Boehner said. "I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.” (By the way, John Boehner came in second only to Paul Ryan for the amount of campaign contributions from gun lobbyists over the span of his career.)
John Boehner may not have thought the problem was research worthy, but medical and public health professionals disagree. Both the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association have called gun violence a public health issue, and in 2016 over 100 medical organizations signed a letter asking Congress to lift the Dickey Amendment. “We in public health count dead people. It’s one of the things we do. And we count them in order to understand how to prevent preventable deaths,” said Nancy Krieger, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Congressman Dickey passed away in April. In recent years he expressed regret over the amendment. In 2012, he coauthored a Washington Post op-ed with Mark Rosenberg, in which both men argued for more gun-violence research. Dickey later said, “I wish I had not been so reactionary.”
So do we.
posted by Amy Levengood
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