Written by Serie McDougal
In the U.S., it is no secret that deaths due to gun violence is a problem that disproportionately affects African Americans. This is a key, yet often unspoken, factor in the recent debates over the republican decision to include a ban against funding for gun-violence research in spite of continued shootings. But this conversation must be placed into historical context, recent history, and remote history. Current discussions of the under-valuing of Black life rightly inspire discontent. But sometimes, they inspire surprise and astonishment because they are rooted in a mystical version of American history. A staple of American media, but also its life and history, has been and continues to be the normalized spectacle of violence enacted on Black people. From the earliest normalized images of public whippings, burnings, beatings, and mutilations to current media images coupling Black people and acts of violence, legal and extra-legal police violence, and gun violence. The congressional debate over republican refusal to remove the ban against gun violence research hinges in part on who’s dying, who’s most affected, and who cares. While some congress members may be isolated from the effects of gun violence, we know that it is often fatal, it damages physical and mental health, families and relationships, and neighborhoods (Felson & Painter-Davis, 2012).
Congress stripped funding from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the mid 1990’s. The ban is now 17 years old. Under pressure from gun lobbyists, congress stripped $2.6 million dollars (the exact amount that the agency had been spending on violence research) from the CDC’s budget and also stipulated that none of their funding “may be used to advocate or promote gun control”. The reasons for this ban can be traced back to a 1993 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, by Arthur Kellerman and Colleagues called Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home. The article demonstrated a strong independent relationship between the possession of a gun in the home and increased risk of homicide. The National Rifle Association (NRA) responded to the report by campaigning to eliminate the CDC’s National Center for Injury and Prevention.
Although the center remained, congress included language in the 1996 Omnibus Consolidation Appropriations Bill, known as the Dickey Amendment (named after Representative Jay Dickey), stating that "None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control." Congress also took $2.6 million dollars away from the CDC’s budget, the exact amount that it had previously in firearm injury research. It is important to note that congress has not attempted to deter research tied to advocacy in the areas of HIV\AIDS, Motor-Vehicle Injuries, Cancer, and Smoking. However, evidence tied to intervention and prevention policy is seen as a threat as it related to gun ownership. The American Psychological Association along with hundreds of other scientists have called for the lifting of the ban.
It is important to note that research is not absolutely prohibited in the sense that there is still research being done using available administrative medical data. However, depending on available medical data means that research validity will be limited. Relying on available data from hospital administrative records means that researchers cannot measure what they want to directly because they are using data collected for different purposes.
In 2013, President Obama, in response to the death of the mostly white victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, advocated for the CDC to be funded to do more research to study the root causes of gun violence. However, the appropriations were blocked and the language banning research remained. Today the ban continues in spite of the fact that the original author of the ban (amendment) has publicly expressed his support for gun violence research and his regret for the role he played in blocking such research. The rider ensures that congress is not duty-bound to act on the results of government sponsored research into the root causes of gun violence and prevention strategies.
Given our knowledge of the value for Black life in the American context and the poor outcomes of appeals to the sympathetic ears of others, there must be a different kind of advocacy in addition to compelling funding and research from congress and the CDC. Afrocentric organizations such as the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) has been investigating the root causes of gun violence for years in addition to informing evidence based interventions to reduce gun violence in the Black community specifically such as the Aban Aya Youth Project. Programs like this have been demonstrated to be effective, they are culturally grounded and able to significantly reduce violent behavior, provoking behavior, school delinquency, drug use, and other kinds of risk behavior beyond removing guns from home. The recent ban on funds on gun violence should reinvigorate the congressional Black caucus to fund its own research on advocacy oriented research on Black youth and gun violence given that they are the most vulnerable to violence.
Felson, R. and Painter-Davis, N. (2012). Another cost of being a young Black male: Race, weaponry, and the lethal outcomes in assaults. Social Science Research, 41(5), 1241-53.