Democrats press opportunity to revive US gun research

Federal funding has slowed to a trickle over the past two decades

January 22, 2019
gun lab experiment
Source: Alamy

Democrats are making a bid to greatly expand the trickle of federally sponsored research into gun violence after taking back control of the US House of Representatives.

The new chair of the House Science Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, has proposed a measure that would give various federal agencies some $40 million (£31 million) a year for sponsoring gun-related research.

That compares with about $5 million in total federal investment in such research over the past two decades.

“If we are to effectively curb the gun violence epidemic in America, we must invest in gun violence research,” Ms Johnson said in announcing the bill.

The paucity of funding stems from a 1996 measure, pushed by Jay Dickey, a Republican from Arkansas, that, in effect, equated the study of gun violence with attempts to ban weapons and thus largely forbid such research.

Part of that fear among gun advocates was borne out – one highly publicised area of study has shown that, contrary to industry claims, keeping a gun in one’s home does not lower the risk of a gun death but rather significantly raises it.

But in many other cases, gun researchers said, their findings could help to identify ways to reduce the nationwide carnage while allowing responsible owners to keep their weapons.

In fact, one important conclusion from the limited amounts of recent research is that background checks – the standard but inconsistently applied requirements for a potential gun buyer to first clear a police records review – show little if any evidence of reducing gun-related violence.

Without research to challenge assumptions on both sides of the political debate, advocates for gun restrictions could waste valuable efforts, said one leading researcher, Garen Wintemute, Susan P. Baker-Stephen P. Teret chair in violence prevention at the University of California, Davis. “There’s a real risk that we’ll work very hard and enact policies that won’t be effective,” he said.

In the absence of robust federal funding, some states and private donors – the Joyce Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and, more recently, the Rand Corporation – have emerged for university scientists as their leading sources of gun research money.

But even the most active state, California, through the Violence Prevention Research Program at Davis, headed by Professor Wintemute, still provides only about $1 million a year. And on the federal level, Professor Wintemute said he saw little chance of the Republican-led Senate accepting the gun research ambitions of House Democrats.


Print headline: Democrats hope to boost study of gun violence

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