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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Petition to End the Dickey Amendment and Research Gun Violence

The Dickey Amendment, a 20-year-old law banning any scientific research on gun violence, has been supported by the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun lobbyists. Back when the aptly named "Dickey Amendment" was tacked onto a 1996 appropriations bill, Representative Jay Dickey of Arkansas had argued that CDC research would push policies that would infringe on American's Second Amendment rights.

This Amendment has effectively silenced researchers at both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) for conducting any comprehensive studies on what causes violence -- and what can be done to prevent it -- since 1996. As expected, it’s left public health experts and policymakers with little to lean on as they attempt to craft new legislation to help quell the fatal trend.

In light of the legislation, the CDC has refrained from engaging in research related to gun violence, even when called upon by President Obama to do so following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, in order to avoid losing funding. As a result, gun violence research has been largely left undone and the unchecked violence has cost the United States $229 billion annually, according to a Mother Jones report.

Yet, yesterday doctors began a dedicated movement to change all of that.

In a December 2 press conference, led by the group Doctors for America and joined by a handful of Democratic lawmakers, doctors presented a petition signed by more than 2,000 physicians in all 50 states to Congress requesting an end to the restriction. The doctors there spoke about the need to view gun violence as a public health epidemic and research ways to solve it just as the country would with any disease causing the deaths of thousands of Americans each year.

The event ended just a few hours before news broke of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

“Using emotions and belief systems to address policy is a bad idea and is going to get us nowhere. So to develop effective policy we must conduct evidence-based research,” said Dr. David Berman, a physician from St. Petersburg, Florida, who spoke at the press conference. “Common sense dictates we need to do something about this.”

“Gun violence is a public health problem that kills 90 Americans a day,” reported Dr Alice Chen, executive director of the lobby group Doctors for America. “Physicians believe it’s time to lift this effective ban and fund the research needed to save lives. We urge Congress to put patients over politics to help find solutions to our nation’s gun violence crisis.”

(Sabrina Siddiqui. "Doctors' groups join Democrats to end ban on gun violence
research funding." The Guardian. December 02, 2015.) 

Even Dickey, the former congressman, who lent his name to the initial amendment, has publicly expressed his regret for backing the bill. He lent his support to Wednesday’s press conference by sending a letter to Representative Mike Thompson, chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, to read at the event.

In his letter, Dickey wrote ...

"It is my position that somehow or someway we should slowly but methodically fund such research until a solution is reached. Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution... Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners, in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile."

Thompson said, "I commend Jay Dickey for taking this stand."

(Jelani James. "Jay Dickey: Gun Violence Research Gag Order Should Be Reversed." December 03, 2015.)

Rep. David Price, vice chair to the House of Representatives’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, says ...

“Gun violence is among the most difficult public health challenges we face as a country, but because of the deeply misguided ban on research, we know very little about it. Regardless of where we stand in the debate over gun violence, we should all be able to agree that this debate should be informed by objective data and robust scientific research.”

(Alex Zielinski. "Physicians Demand End To 20-Year-Old Ban On Gun Violence Research." December 02, 2015.)

Dr. Nina Agrawal, who’s been a pediatrician in the South Bronx, agrees ...

“It’s disappointing to me that we’ve made little progress in the past 20 years in finding solutions to gun violence. In my career, I’ve seen children lives saved from measles, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, motor vehicle accidents…because of federal scientific data and research. It’s frustrating that the CDC is not permitted to do the same type of research for gun violence."

(Alex Zielinski. "Physicians Demand End To 20-Year-Old Ban On Gun Violence Research." December 02, 2015.)

GOP leaders have tried to make gun violence an issue that requires mental health research, despite the fact that less than 3 percent of U.S. crimes involve someone with a mental illness. And the most recent argument against CDC-funded research is that “a gun is not a disease” -- even though the CDC has been researching motor vehicles, natural disasters, poor ventilation systems, and many other topics that wouldn’t be labeled a disease for years. The politicians behind these arguments have yet to suggest simply allocating money to another government agency.

“Politicians have put a gag order on public health research for gun violence only to score political points,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who also spoke at the event. “On public health matters, it’s critical we listen to doctors — not politicians.”

Proclamation and Petition of the Doctors For America

"As physicians, we are outraged that this Nation continues to lose innocent lives from daily gun violence. Despite Sandy Hook and the continued tragedies since then, more than 89 Americans continue to die every day from gun violence.

"You would be shocked to know that nearly 20 years ago Congress, under intense pressure from the gun lobby, passed a law blocking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) from carrying out the necessary research to better understand how to prevent gun violence.

"Most recently, in June 2015, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to maintain this funding ban. The result: a significant source of funding for evidence-based, scientific research into the causes of gun violence was blocked entirely, and a signal was sent to the entire scientific funding community that chilled almost all other outside research into this critical issue.

"It's time to end the ban on CDC and NIH research so we can find solutions to the gun violence crisis.

"Federal scientific data has driven policy to save lives from motor vehicle accidents, sudden infant death syndrome, lead poisoning, and countless other public health crises. It’s time to do the same with gun violence."

(Nina Agrawal, M.D. "Tell Congress: End the Ban on Gun Research."
Doctors For America. November 10, 2015.)  

Here is the wording of the petition and the site for health care workers to join the fight:

To Members of Congress:

Research is crucial to saving lives. Scientific data has saved lives from motor vehicle accidents, sudden infant death syndrome, lead poisoning, and countless other threats to people's health.

Gun violence is a public health problem that kills 90 Americans a day. It's time to put patients over politics. 

Lift the CDC gun research ban and fund the research we need to save lives.

Voicing the Need For Gun Violence Research

Some will say the Doctors For America press conference and the plea for research on American gun violence had no relation whatsoever to the mass shooting in San Bernardino because many media officials suspect that tragedy to be a well-planned terrorist act. However, gun violence in America is widely defined as "violence committed with the use of a gun (firearm or small arm)." Included in this subject are statistics regarding military or para-military activities, as well as the actions of civilians.

Gun violence may or may not be considered criminal. Non-criminal gun violence may include accidental or unintentional injury or death.

Criminal gun violence like that yesterday in San Bernardino includes homicide (except when and where ruled justifiable), assault with a deadly weapon, and suicide, or attempted suicide, depending on the jurisdiction.

Foreign terrorism, domestic terrorism, mass murder -- all criminal gun violence must be addressed as waves of horrible tragedies rock our country. The bullets, the extended magazines, the handguns, the long-rifles, the automatic assault weapons, the perpetrators, the victims -- so many areas of concern exist that prompt, methodical, unbiased research on gun violence must be begun.

Now it is imperative that Congress must react to those who deal with the bloody, mangled aftermath of maniacs who shoot round after round into innocent victims to appease their evil desires -- the doctors who fight so desperately to save victims of such unspeakable tragedies. I urge the health community to support the petition today.

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