CDC's funding of research on gun violence peaked at about $2.6 million in 1996. The results included findings such as the observation that homicides are significantly more likely to occur in households where a gun is kept. The gun lobby pressured Congress to stop this line of inquiry, and in the mid-1990s legislators issued a series of advisory messages and some legal restrictions on agency actions.
Among other steps, legislators added a directive in the bill that funds CDC's injury prevention center that said "none of the funds … may be used to advocate or promote gun control."
Congress also cut CDC's budget by the amount it was spending on gun violence research, without specifying where the cut should be made. Managers got the message and cut gun-related research.
The White House claims today that people misread that message: "[S]ome members of Congress have claimed this prohibition also bans the CDC from conducting any research on the causes of gun violence," says a White House briefing document. "However, research on gun violence is not advocacy," according to the White House, which says the law does not bar increased federal support.
Today's news is "a terrific development," says Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago research center known as the Crime Lab. Ludwig is a co-author of a letter signed by more than 100 academics that calls for an end to the ban on gun violence research.
In an e-mail to ScienceInsider, he says, "Without support for data and research in this area, it is very difficult to know which policy changes are most likely to generate net improvements in public safety that can justify the costs involved."