During each of the past ten years, an average of 32,000 people died from the flu. This certainly qualifies influenza as a major threat to public health. The federal government has responded in kind, spending approximately $430 million on flu research, vaccinations, and education every year. Given this high fatality rate, it's hard to imagine anyone arguing that such funding is undeserved.
What if there were a second public health threat that killed an equal number of Americans each year, but instead of combating it, Congress explicitly banned research into its causes?
This seems absurd and irresponsible, but it is exactly what happened nearly two decades ago with research on gun violence. In 1996 Republicans in Congress imposed a ban on federal funding to support research into the underlying causes and prevention of gun violence, which kills more than 30,000 Americans a year.
This is why when Congress reconvenes after the presidential inauguration, House Republicans should immediately bring President Obama's gun safety plan to a vote.
In the same way that research into motor vehicle accidents led to safer cars and a dramatic reduction in traffic fatalities, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) should study gun violence as the public health crisis that it is. But the National Rifle Association protested when the CDC, prior to the ban, determined that homes with guns had a significantly greater risk of gun-related homicide and suicide than those without firearms present.
At the NRA's prompting, Congressman Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) sponsored a ban on federal funding for gun violence research by inserting a provision into the CDC appropriations bill. That ban effectively blindfolded policymakers attempting to take an evidence-based approach to reducing firearm-related deaths and injury. Dickey has since changed his position, recently co-authoring a Washington Post op-ed titled "We won't know the cause of gun violence until we look for it."
Jay Dickey is right -- it's time to take the blindfolds off. President Obama agrees, and his recent gun reform proposal correctly calls for the use of federal funding for firearms research. However, the president enacted this change through executive order, meaning it could be overturned in a future administration. That's why I have introduced legislation along with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) that would codify and enshrine this change into the law and keep researchers and good science from being used as political football.
The president's plan, of course, extends far beyond lifting the research ban. He has proposed the most sweeping reforms to our nation's gun laws in a generation, and hard-line gun rights activists wasted no time in condemning him. This time, however, reasonable, mainstream Americans aren't buying the NRA's radical reaction. A Reuters poll found that 74 percent of Americans favor a ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. Ninety percent of Americans also support requiring universal background checks, regardless of where one purchases a gun.
Despite public opinion, a minority of pro-gun ideologues continue to cling to an alternate reality in which any attempt to implement reasonable restrictions on gun purchases and ownership is equated with abrogation of the Second Amendment. The NRA fuels this misperception. The president's proposal would bring reasonable, commonsense reform to our gun laws, and it should be passed by Congress immediately.
The president's proposal would protect American citizens from gun violence and preserve the rights of law-abiding gun owners. That's why I have called on the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to bring the president's proposal up for a vote as soon as Congress returns following the president's inauguration. The most fundamental government function is protecting its citizens, and the time for Congress to act is now.
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