A fund administered by the RAND Corporation is awarding nearly $10 million dollars to researchers across the country to study gun violence, injecting new funding into a topic that has seen relatively little attention from the scientific community over the past two decades.
The amount of money currently spent on research into gun violence is miniscule compared to other big killers, like car crashes and sepsis. A 2017 study showed that gun violence research received less than 2% of the funding that would be expected compared to health issues that cause similar amounts of deaths.
In 1996, Congress passed the so-called Dickey Amendment, forbidding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from spending federal dollars to advocate for gun control. Researchers say that had a chilling effect and left a gap in both our knowledge of what causes gun violence and our ability to combat it.
Andrew Morral, director of RAND’s National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, says years of lean funding has left the country to play catch-up.
“Right now there’s very basic questions we don’t have answers to and they are often questions that are at the heart of disagreements between groups in this country on what the best gun policies should be,” he said. “For instance, we don’t know if ‘gun-free zones’ make us safer or less safe.”
The lack of funding has pushed a whole generation of researchers away from the topic of gun violence, said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and chief research officer for The American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine.
“I myself was told early on in my career not to focus on firearm injury research, that this was a career killer, a dead end,” she said.
A spending bill passed by Congress and signed into law in 2018 made it clear that the CDC has the authority to research the causes of gun violence, but failed to allocate any funding. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve funding for the CDC to research firearm injury and mortality, marking the first time in more than two decades the House has appropriated the agency funds to study gun violence prevention. The bill has yet to be approved by the Senate.
The research funded by the RAND grants include studies looking at the effectiveness of background checks, teaching children how to spot potential threats at school, and a training program aimed at reducing officer-involved shootings.
The money for the grants was donated by the Texas-based philanthropy group Arnold Ventures. The RAND Corporation, a non-partisan public policy institute, administers the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research.
The group expects to award another $10 million in grant funding after a second call for gun research proposals is issued in late 2019 or early 2020, according to RAND.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.