The One Public Health Problem the Centers for Disease Control Can't Study

Under pressure from the NRA, Congress keeps a ban on CDC research into gun violence.


Maybe one of the reasons so much of the discussion following Dylann Roof’s rampage in Charleston has focused on the Confederate flag is because that’s a debate that actually seems to be changing things. Conversely, a conversation about guns is a nonstarter. One week after Roof opened fire, Congress rebuffed a measure that would have allowed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the causes behind gun violence.

The CDC is good at finding ways to alleviate public health concerns, and with about 30 people a day killed by guns, firearms should comfortably fit in its purview. Yet, it’s been nearly 20 years since the CDC studied the problem. In 1996, the NRA started campaigning against the agency, fearful such research was a stealth method of fighting for gun control.

As The Washington Post reports, after a funding skirmish the CDC’s appropriations bill was edited to effectively ban such research promising, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Obama pushed for the CDC to start looking into causes again following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, but still nothing moved.

Democrat Nita Lowey thought it was time for a change, so she introduced an amendment to the House Appropriations Committee that would allow study into the underlying causes of gun violence.. The committee shot it down, 19-32.

“The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” House Speaker John Boehner told The Takeaway. “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.”

Like the NRA, Boehner confuses studying a problem with passing a ban. He shouldn’t be so paranoid. We average one mass-shooting a month, most Americans want stricter gun control, and we still can’t move the needle. What could the CDC possibly find that would change anything?