By: Robert Sarwark
Note: A few weeks ago, I posted about the “Dickey Amendment,” which ostensibly restricts the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from researching the root causes and impacts of firearm violence in the United States. This post serves as an update.
A Wind of Change?
In an article posted on March 21, Nathaniel Weixel of The Hill reported that the most recent federal consolidated appropriations (omnibus) bill included a provision that clarifies that the CDC is not prohibited from researching American gun violence. “Although the [original and renewed] provision doesn’t explicitly ban research into gun violence,” he writes, “public health advocates and Democrats say there’s been a chilling effect for more than 20 years.”
It is true that this kind of research takes place in the private (or at least non-federal), academic sphere at universities such as Johns Hopkins or the University of Washington. What’s clear, however, is that the Dickey Amendment has not been repealed (though a bill toward this end has been recently introduced). Perhaps this is why the CDC has avoided anything that could be construed as politicized statements or law-changing policy recommendations: in order to maintain robust federal funding.
But let’s get back to the brass tacks. Though he threatened to veto it, President Donald Trump signed the consolidated appropriations bill, H.R. 1625, into law on Friday, March 23, 2018. The essential text of the original Dickey Amendment from 1996 remains:
Sec. 210. None of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.
So where is the change that was reported? As an update to the March 21 article, The Hill reported on March 25th that the CDC’s instructions accompanying the signed bill are as follows:
While appropriations language prohibits the CDC and other agencies from using appropriated funding to advocate or promote gun control, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has stated the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence.
You Say Tomato…
Apparently, according to several Republican legislators, the distinction here has always been between research and advocacy. Or, in other words, “Go ahead and research all you want. Just don’t make it seem like you’re telling any voters to have or seek less guns.” (Because then, of course, those same Republican legislators might not have the campaign-finance support of the National Rife Association.) You see where this is heading.
As in much of politics, semantics is one heck of a murky river to wade through, especially when it’s in regards to an issue as polarizing as gun rights/control.
As the national conversation continues heatedly on the issues of Second Amendment rights, “common-sense” gun policy (interpreted widely), mental health concerns, and others in the wake of the most recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, it appears that federal funding legislation has not yet met the expectations of many advocates of reform. However, as linked above, the push to repeal the Dickey Amendment in its entirety is just beginning its journey through the legislative process. And the nationwide debate continues.
In the meantime, and especially considering the massive, nationwide protests in support of gun-control reform over the weekend of March 24-25, I’ll be keeping my eye on whether any new CDC research on the causes of gun violence begins in earnest… or the status quo is maintained.
Robert M. Sarwark is a librarian at the Art Institute of Atlanta and a 2018-2019 Visiting Fellow in Publishing History at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. He is originally from Chicago and enjoys dogs, pizza, and writing bios in the third person. Find him on Twitter @RobSarwark.