The Threat to CDC’s Gun Violence Research

“A lot of new questions are being asked and new ways of looking at things—this just wasn’t possible five years ago,” Morral says. “There [are] people coming into the field now, and that’s what the money is doing. It’s making it possible to get this field launched. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit here, but it’s going to take a lot of research to start getting persuasive findings and it’s starting to happen.”

In the wake of horrific mass shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, last year, before the GOP recaptured the House, Congress passed the sweeping Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), aimed at improving the nation’s background check system, stymieing gun traffickers, protecting domestic violence survivors, and enhancing mental health services in local communities and schools from coast to coast.

The measure includes billions for mental health, $250 million for community violence intervention programs, and $300 million for violence prevention in the nation’s schools. It also recognizes the federal deficiency in school safety research by creating a Federal School Safety Clearinghouse, envisioned as a repository for the best “evidence-based” research for keeping violence off American school grounds.

That best-practices clearinghouse for schools was a GOP-sponsored provision that made it into the BSCA, but, as WIRED reported last summer, studying gun violence wasn’t a part of negotiations on the measure aimed at curbing gun violence. This latest effort by House Republicans to effectively bar the CDC from researching gun violence has social scientists worried about the real-life consequences of turning off the federal funding tap again. The two Senate Republicans who negotiated the BSCA aren’t worried.

“People misuse research every day,” Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, tells WIRED. The other Republican who had a seat at the head table for last summer’s gun negotiations is one of minority leader Mitch McConnell’s top lieutenants, John Cornyn of Texas—a leading contender for replacing the ailing GOP leader in the Senate—who shrugs off CDC gun violence research. “I don’t think there’s any shortage of research in that area,” Cornyn tells WIRED. But he bifurcates gun violence research from gun violence prevention. “We haven’t been able to figure out how to solve all the crimes. Basically, we’ve tried to deter them, we’ve tried to investigate and prosecute them, but we haven’t been able to figure out how to prevent them. So that’s the basic problem, I think.”

Democrats agree. They also say the reason for that “basic problem” is clear: The CDC—through the chilling effect the federal prohibition had on academia over 24 years—has failed to foster a robust research environment to accompany America’s robust gun culture. But Democrats aren’t looking to pass reforms this Congress. Sure, they want to. But the House is barely performing at its normal rate of functional-dysfunctionality these days (just ask newly-former House speaker Kevin McCarthy). Senate Democrats are willing to have a gun violence prevention debate, but as of now, many say there’s no reason to try and debate House Republicans.

“They’re not writing bills that are designed to pass the Senate in order to get signed by the president. They’re literally throwing red meat to the fringe on every conceivable issue. That’s just not serious,” Senator Chris Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat who was at the center of last summer’s gun reform negotiations, tells WIRED. “At some point, they’re going to have to figure out how to pass a bill with us, but they haven’t reached that space yet.”

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