Ban on Gun Research Continues Despite Shootings
Crucial questions about firearms safety, training and injuries remain unanswered, experts say
By Dennis Thompson
MONDAY, Jan. 18, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Mass shootings have prompted agony, anger and angst in the United States, causing citizens to ask why these events continue to happen and what can be done to stop them.
There are precious few answers to those questions, and there's at least one strong reason why: For nearly two decades, the U.S. government has declined to fund research into gun violence.
Without that funding, experts say, crucial questions on gun safety and gun violence have been left unanswered.
"People will tell you that we've got lots of laws regarding guns, and they're just not being enforced," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "In my mind, that argument falls short, because we're not doing the research to evaluate how those laws are doing, to see how to best enforce them or how they should be tweaked if there's a hole in those laws."
Other important topics that have been left unstudied include design changes that could make guns safer, the number of nonfatal firearm injuries that occur each year, and the effectiveness of safety training for firearms, experts said.
"There are so many things we just don't know anything about," said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center in Boston. "Any gun-related topic you list, there are huge gaps in our knowledge."
President Barack Obama's recent executive orders issued on firearms will do little to resolve this problem, Hemenway added. Obama's orders focused on improved background checks and effective enforcement of existing gun laws, but only contained a single mention of research to improve gun safety technology.
"Congress controls the funding and they recently eliminated funds in the President's budget for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for gun research," Hemenway said.
What many Americans might not know, Benjamin said, is that the trillion-dollar spending bill passed by Congress and signed by Obama in December retained a ban on firearms research that dates to the 1990s.
Elected officials renewed the ban despite then-recent mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo., and an outcry from public health officials.