President Barack Obama attends the Sandy Hook interfaith vigil at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn., Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012
Former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR) is best known for his amendment that restricted federal funding into gun violence research, passed in 1996. Countless gun deaths later, Dickey is wondering if that was such a good idea
"I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time," Dickey, an Arkansas Republican, told the Huffington Post in an interview. "I have regrets." […]
At first, the House tried to close down the CDC's entire, $46 million National Center for Injury Prevention. When that failed, Dickey stepped in with an alternative: strip $2.6 million that the agency had spent on gun studies that year.
Dickey proclaimed victory—an end, he said at the time, to the CDC's attempts "to raise emotional sympathy" around gun violence. But the agency spent the subsequent years petrified of doing any research on gun violence, making the costs of the amendment clear even to Dickey himself.
Without public policy research, public policy becomes much harder to make. That was a simple formula understood by the NRA when it started pressing for defunding of gun violence research. It's worked almost completely. The ban was initially applied just to funding for the Centers for Disease Control, so some funding was still available through the National Institutes of Health. Until 2011, that is, when Congress extended the ban to the NIH.
"If there is no research, it is harder to make suggestions for policy reform," said Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. "And if you have a vested interest in stopping policy reform, what better way to do it than to choke off the research? It was brilliant and it worked. And my question is how many people died as a result?”
So, too little, too late on the regrets, Mr. Dickey. The blood of all the people killed and maimed by gun violence isn't exclusively on your hands, because god knows there's plenty to go around. All the same, he has a message for current lawmakers: "I’d tell them there is research and then there is research. And I would point to this little [highway barricade] fence and say that research has done some good."