01/16/2013 01:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Gun Violence Research Ordered By Obama In Bid To Stem Harm

President Barack Obama has ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to resume research into the public health implications of firearms violence as part of his push for greater federal gun control laws.

Studying the causes and effects of gun violence might seem like a no-brainer but the CDC has been handcuffed by a law that has frozen federally financed studies that "promote gun control" since 1996.

"Year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to de-fund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence. I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it," Obama said Wednesday. "We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence."

Opening the doors to more research into guns and public health was just one the executive actions and legislative proposals Obama undertook Wednesday in response to the murders of 20 children and six adults in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month.

Here's the legal language that has held back the CDC and the rest of the Department of Health and Human Services prior to Obama's Wednesday order:

None of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.

Gun-rights supporters were angered by 1990s CDC-backed research, including a study that concluded the self-defense benefits of keeping guns in the home were outweighed by the risks. The restrictions on the agency's research soon followed and has been on the books since 1996.

Obama issued a memorandum to the Department of Health and Human Services essentially freeing its research agencies to go around that legal language. The president's order says the department

shall conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it. The Secretary shall begin by identifying the most pressing research questions with the greatest potential public health impact, and by assessing existing public health interventions being implemented across the Nation to prevent gun violence.

UPDATE: The original headline on this post indicated Obama ordered the CDC to conduct "gun control research." The White House objected to that characterization on the grounds that federal law will continue to forbid research on gun control and that the president's memo refers to studies on "gun violence." The new headline reflects these facts.


Engaging in Public Health Research on the Causes and Prevention of Gun Violence