If lawmakers won't limit guns after Uvalde shooting, they should at least fund gun violence research

Federal funding for gun violence research was frozen in 1996 by the Dickey Amendment, a Republican-backed measure that banned the government from “advocating” for gun control.

click to enlarge President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visit Robb Elementary School to pay their respects at a memorial for the 19 victims of the Uvalde shooting. - JOSEPH GUILLEN
Joseph Guillen
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visit Robb Elementary School to pay their respects at a memorial for the 19 victims of the Uvalde shooting.
When asked about gun laws in the wake of Tuesday’s massacre at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School, Georgia senatorial candidate Herschel Walker had an illuminating response: "What I like to — what I like to do is see it and everything and stuff.”

That “illuminating” description may sound like a joke, but it’s not intended as one. If Walker, the Republican nominee, wants to “see” what enabled the deaths of 21 people, 19 of them children, the best way would be to examine peer-reviewed research on gun violence, right? That’s the gold standard.

Except federal funding for gun violence research was frozen in 1996 by the Dickey Amendment, a Republican-championed measure that banned the federal government from “advocating” for gun control.

That terrible piece of legislation was somewhat alleviated after 2018’s Parkland, Florida shooting, when then-President Donald Trump — of all people — signed a bill allowing research to be excluded from “advocacy” restrictions. In fiscal year 2021, Congress allocated $12.5 million to research gun violence and upped it to $25 million this year.

That restoration of funding is a first step. But when one considers the billions poured into other federal priorities, like the Pentagon or Social Security, it’s a pittance. Hell, it’s even a pittance compared to the amount the government funnels into other types of research.

To the lament of scholars, this decades-long funding gap has caused a lag in understanding gun violence. And we all know that focus won’t come without a substantial increase in federal dollars. The resulting research would likely include an examination of mental health issues and how they can lead to mass shootings — something that would address a key GOP talking point following these incidents.

Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of constant and gradual improvement. We would be wise to adopt that approach to the U.S. epidemic of mass shootings and make small but immediate changes. Why not focus on research and understand more about its root causes? If there’s a deficit of researchers and data, let’s correct that quickly.

One commonality in mass shootings is the use of assault rifles. There’s a solid argument to be made for banning the weapons, but the congressional support doesn’t exist. At least not yet. It’s delusional to believe this ban will happen until there’s a major swing in power in Washington.

The Alcoholics Anonymous mantra is so ubiquitous it’s become cliché: “The first step is admitting you have a problem.” Republican leaders must admit we, as a nation, have a problem. Mass killings are being enabled by easy access to firearms created for the sole purpose of causing massive human casualties.

If we cannot begin to rein in those weapons, then we should at least fund research that addresses the root causes of this epidemic of violence. We should ask Republican leaders if, in the wake of this tragedy, they are willing to support a massive increase in funding for gun-violence research. There’s an obvious follow-up that goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway. “If no, why not?”

Republicans know there’s problem. After all, they banned guns from Trump’s appearance at the National Rifle Association convention in Houston last weekend.

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