Durbin Calls for End to Ban On Centers for Disease Control Gun Violence Research

Since 1996, nonsensical provision in law has prohibited the CDC from studying the epidemic of gun violence in America

CHICAGO – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today called for the end of a longstanding prohibition on federally funded gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The provision blocking public health research on ways to combat the gun violence epidemic in the United States dates back to an appropriations rider initially passed by Congress in 1996.  The original author of that rider, former Congressman Jay Dickey (R-AR), has expressed regret for that rider and called for a resumption of CDC research on gun violence.  Last week Durbin and 17 Senate Democrats sent a letter to formally urge the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee to schedule a hearing on appropriating funds for the CDC to conduct this research.


“The gun lobby’s war on federal gun violence research has caused lasting harm. There are some private sources of research funding, but they can’t match what the CDC can do in terms of large-scale and long-term studies,” Durbin said. “Congress needs to act, by stripping the gun violence research ban out of the CDC spending bill.  After we get rid of the research ban, we should pass a bill that I am cosponsoring that would specifically authorize $10 million per year in gun violence research by the CDC. Federal agencies spend about $60 million per year researching highway and vehicle safety- surely we can spend at least one-sixth of that amount researching gun violence.”


Durbin was joined at the press conference by the founder and executive director of the KLEO Community Family Life Center, Pastor Torrey Barrett; the Medical Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Dr. Catherine Humikowski; and Pamela Bosley, the mother of Terrell Bosley who was slain outside a South Side church in 2006. 


The CDC is the leading public health organization working to protect Americans from health threats including disease, injury and violence. The organization spends about $5 billion each year funding research, prevention, and outreach activities to address America’s biggest health threats, yet it does not conduct research on gun violence which kills around 32,000 Americans each year.


The CDC gun research ban was prompted by gun lobby after concerns that such research was demonstrating risks of firearms ownership.  In 1993, a New England Journal of Medicine article based on CDC-funded research found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly associated with an increased risk of homicide by a family member. The NRA responded to this study by calling for the elimination of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention, which had funded the study.  In 1996, Congressman Dickey successfully included a rider in the federal Labor-HHS-Education spending bill to prohibit CDC from using funds “to advocate or promote gun control” and also to cut $2.6 million, the amount CDC had spent on gun research the previous year, from the National Center for Injury Prevention’s budget.


In 2011, Congress expanded the rider to provide that no funds anywhere in the Labor-HHS-Education bill, including NIH funds, could be used, “in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.”  This expansion of the rider came after a NIH-funded study was published in 2009 investigating the link between gun possession and gun assaults. 


In 2012, former Congressman Dickey wrote an op-ed expressing regret for his amendment and calling for federal gun violence research. After the December 2012 Newtown mass shooting, many medical associations and scientists urged an end to the gun violence research ban, including a prominent letter led by University of Chicago researchers. 


In January 2013, the President issued an executive memorandum saying that he interpreted the appropriations rider not to block gun violence research but only to block funds for political advocacy.  The executive memorandum called for CDC to immediately start researching strategies for preventing gun violence.  However, the CDC has not acted on this directive due to the Dickey Amendment.   


Last month, over 60 medical associations sent a letter to Congress calling for an end to the gun violence research ban and noting that “the effective ban on federal research has stymied our progress on gun violence prevention for the past 20 years.”  Additionally, last month the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago urged Congress to end the ban.  However, an effort to remove the Dickey Amendment from the federal omnibus legislation fell short. 


Durbin is also an original cosponsor of a bill written by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) that would specifically authorize $10 million per year in gun violence research by the CDC.