05/21/2014 12:55 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2014

An Epidemic of Gun Silence

It is estimated that next year the total number of firearm fatalities in the US will rise to almost 33,000. Guns will kill almost twice as many children as cancer. Gun violence costs our country an estimated $174 billion every year. Next year, for the first time, gun deaths will exceed traffic fatalities.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Back in 1979, traffic fatalities peaked at 51,093. But by last year, even though there are now far more cars on the road and the population has grown by over 90 million, the total number of traffic fatalities had fallen to 34,080.

In large measure, this happened because of research into car safety, much of it federally funded. Safety research has paid big dividends and saved tens of thousands of lives. Published safety research results allow consumers to make informed choices when buying a car, a furnace or a toaster for their family. Because when it comes to safety, knowledge is powerful.

That is why it is so tragic that when it comes to guns, seeking similar knowledge is forbidden.

Public research into gun safety and the causes of gun violence could save lives, just the way it has with car safety. Public research could identify effective safety measures and provide consumers with truthful, accurate information.

But a virtual gag order has been imposed on researchers by the pro-gun lobby. Over the past two decades, little by little, they have successfully silenced science. They just don't want consumers to know the facts. It's both outrageous and un-American.

In 1993, a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine found that, rather than keeping people safer, keeping a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance. This is certainly useful safety information for would-be consumers.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) didn't like that message. But rather than trying to fight science with science, the NRA sought to silence the messenger. It campaigned heavily for the complete elimination of the division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that funded the study, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Though the Center survived, the NRA got what it wanted. The CDC was virtually silenced on the subject of gun violence when the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC's budget -- precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year.

And when the Omnibus budget for Fiscal Year 1997 came out, it contained language that stated: "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." This clause did what it was intended to do, and scared researchers off.

Then, when researchers began using state data, the gun lobby turned its attention there. A 1997 study published in the American Journal of Public Health used a publicly available database on gun permits in Washington State. The study found that the legal purchase of a handgun appeared to be associated with a long-lasting increased risk of violent death. That was not a message the NRA approved, and so the state database was soon put off-limits. No more federal research using the database.

According to The New York Times, due to aggressive advocacy by the gun lobby in state legislatures in recent years, state after state has moved to put gun data off limits. A Sunlight Foundation analysis shows that the data is now off the public record in a majority of states.

In 2009, a study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and published in the American Journal of Public Health titled "Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault." The study found that "guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault, and in fact individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession."

And, two years later, the gun lobby managed to effectively silence that messenger as well. Pro-gun forces managed to extend restrictive language to all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. No more federal research.

This is wrong, it is outrageous, and it costs lives. In America, we believe in freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech, and the value of an informed public. The good news is that President Obama has again included $10 million in funding for gun research in his 2015 budget proposal. I'm now working with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) to encourage our colleagues in the House and Senate to do the same.

This week, we've introduced new legislation to address this public health crisis. Our bill would create a dedicated funding stream -- $10 million a year for the next five years -- to ensure that the CDC can begin funding this much-needed research. This investment pales in comparison to the costs of violence, of children dying at school or on the street, and will give policymakers the information they need to intervene effectively and stop these tragedies before they happen.

American consumers deserve to know the facts, without interference or biases. In this case the truth could help keep us all a little safer.