Another community in our country has been enveloped in grief as it mourns the 14 people killed and 21 wounded in a mass shooting in San Bernardino. Mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents are all heartbroken and dismayed as to why our country must continue to experience these acts of violence that feel increasingly routine.
And yet Congress sits idly by, unable to pass any legislation to keep our communities safe, unable even to have an honest debate about what might reduce mass shootings or gun violence. Congress should be embarrassed. The public should be frustrated. And Americans should be angry.
I’m angry. At every turn, the House leadership has blocked the most basic consideration of legislation to address gun violence. As a Democrat, it would be easy for me to blame Republicans. And it would be easy for Republicans to say guns aren’t the problem, people who use guns to kill are the problem.
Frankly, I’m tired of the finger-pointing. As a doctor and public health expert, I’d like to be able to address this the way we would any other public health emergency. To understand how to best approach the problem, we must first collect and study data on the risk factors of gun violence to see if there are any common root causes. Then we can propose and test interventions to keep our communities safe.
But since 1996, Congress has continually renewed a provision known as the Dickey amendment that prohibits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using any funds allocated for injury prevention “to advocate or promote gun control.” While not entirely barring the CDC from studying the causes of gun violence, that’s how the agency has interpreted this law.
According to the CDC, funding for firearm injury prevention has subsequently plummeted to just $100,000, representing less than half of one percent of the agency’s $5.6 billion budget, despite an executive order by President Barack Obama to study the causes of gun violence.
The National Institutes of Health is also afraid to fund gun research. The University of Chicago found dramatic gaps in research related to gun violence. For example, 400 cases of cholera resulted in more than 200 NIH research awards, and 65 cases of rabies led to 89 awards. Meanwhile, more than 4 million cases of firearm injuries resulted in just three.
Members of Congress should be ashamed. The director of the CDC should be ashamed. The head of the NIH should be ashamed. And we should be saddened by how little we know about how to prevent these mass shootings.
Most gun owners are responsible, and I am not proposing to eliminate their right to own a gun. I want to figure out how to prevent the next tragedy. We owe at least that much to the countless victims who have lost their lives to these senseless crimes. And we owe it to the unknown lives that we will hopefully save.
Ami Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, represents the 7th Congressional District. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.