Originating from the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) press conference following the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the phrase, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” has become a mantra for gun rights advocates. However, there is little fact-based evidence to support this claim.
Mother Jones analyzed 62 mass shootings in the United States, discovering shooters were not stopped by armed civilians during any of these incidents. More recently, this assertion has been disputed by surveillance video showing an armed officer failing to confront the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gunman earlier this year. With gun violence becoming a leading cause of death in the U.S., our nation’s ongoing gun control debate has been undermined by inflammatory rhetoric fueled by a lack of research focused on this public health crisis.
The Dickey Amendment, inserted in a government funding bill in 1996, states, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.” This clause has been annually renewed for over 20 years. According to Stanford University’s Sarabeth Spitzer, “The Dickey Amendment essentially prevented research from the top-down on one of the most important public health issues.”
As the CDC’s studies focused on gun violence lost funding, gun-related research has been championed by private foundations and universities. Still, the research lags behind most other public health threats, as there is more money and acclaim in curing cancer. According to The Daily Beast, in 2015 there were less than 20 researchers extensively studying gun violence and prevention. After the 2015 San Bernardino massacre, the amendment’s namesake, former U.S. Representative Jay Dickey told Congress he regretted his role in slowing gun violence research.
“Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution,” Dickey said.
The U.S. has the difficult responsibility to balance the constitutional right to bear arms with the growing concerns about public safety. The RAND Corporation launched the Gun Policy in America Initiative to create an objective resource to assist lawmakers in the development of effective firearm policies.
This March, the RAND Corporation published The Science of Gun Policy, a 413-page report focusing on the current gun violence research. The report acknowledges the critical lack of research on how American gun laws actually impact the safety of a community. Based on available data, though, it found a correlation between limiting access to firearms and reducing gun violence. However, RAND Corporation believes additional research would lead to more innovative and effective solutions to America’s current gun crisis.
Gun violence research is pro-human, not anti-gun. It is focused on how best to protect Americans in our schools and communities. If aided by statistics and studies, our lawmakers would be better able to implement evidence-based solutions to address gun violence in the U.S.
Thankfully, Congress has realized the importance of such research, clarifying in March that the Dickey Amendment was not intended to act as a de facto ban on gun-related research. While many fear this is an empty gesture, as Congress has not explicitly designated funds for the CDC to perform gun violence research, concerned constituents have the power to influence change. They can pressure congressmen and women to continue supporting this important research by writing legislators, participating in meaningful demonstrations and voting in November.