The NRA has been shooting down gun research for years

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Veronica Henderson, Copy editor

The U.S. knows gun violence: almost 70 thousand people sustain gun-related injuries per year, with 33 thousand deaths; mass shootings make headlines at least once a month and a rash of violence in schools has lead to mass protest. What it doesn’t know is how to stop it. It may seem that this is because gun violence is a complex issue with many causes – and it is – but the near complete lack of federal research on guns is also partially to blame. And so, as far as the money trail goes, is the NRA.

The NRA is well known for doling out money to politicians and gun advocacy groups, but perhaps it is less known for cutting it off. In 1996, however, it did just that. Caught the middle of a new wave of gun research, specifically a landmark 1994 study suggesting that it was more dangerous to have guns in the home than out of it, NRA lobbyists pushed for funding cuts to the CDC that totaled 3 million dollars – almost the exact amount the organization had devoted to gun violence research and prevention measures. That same year, the NRA-backed Dickey Amendment, a measure stating 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,” was passed.

Although they did not specifically ban gun research, these provisions effectively slowed it to a halt. The CDC has been unwilling to touch the subject for fear of more cuts and pressure from gun lobbyists; private organizations like the Justice Department and the NIH have also been reluctant to fund studies, with an average of less than one study a year. Even this year’s spending bill, which included language that made the legality of unbiased gun research clear, has not been enough to spur action.

Professor and gun research expert Garen Wintemute at University of California, Davis, argues that the words are meaningless if there’s no money behind them. “There’s no funding. There’s no agreement to provide funding. There isn’t even encouragement,” he said in a statement. “No big questions get answered, and there’s nothing here, yet, of significance for the research community.”

Why, then, is there such a gap between the large number of studies cited by pro and anti-gun groups and those in the government? One reason is simple bias: the NRA is especially fond of funding studies that support its pro-gun agenda, with one memorable example supporting guns in school, and anti-gun groups are just as happy to push back with studies of their own.  The resulting body of research is confusing and often unreliable; the only true solution would be to conduct through a largely unbiased entity (ideally a trusted public source like the CDC).

The NRA’s shadow still looms over the scientific community, and its message is clear: do research that supports lobbyists or be stripped of funding. Politics should not control the availability of knowledge. As pushback against gun violence arises, so, too, should protest against the NRA’s less obvious misdeeds in government. One thing is clear: when it comes to gun research, the US is shooting blind.