Lawmakers under pressure to address mass shootings could provide millions for research on gun violence, which would help fill a knowledge gap about policies that are most effective at reducing injuries and death, as Congress attempts to fund the government by Oct. 1.
House Democrats have proposed $50 million to study gun violence, and academics say the government funding could ensure that the data collection infrastructure is adequate to support a broad research enterprise.
One factor that complicates gun control efforts is that there isn’t a lot of existing research about which policies are effective, although researchers say solid evidence exists in a few areas: Policies meant to keep a parent’s gun out of children’s hands can reduce self-harm, and background checks have proved to be effective in some contexts. But the impacts of other policies are less clear.
The House-passed fiscal 2020 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill would provide $25 million each to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to “better understand and prevent injury and death as a result of firearm violence.” However, in August, Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, suggested he wouldn’t support new funding for gun-related research, citing a desire to avoid contentious issues in bipartisan spending bills.
After Congress returns on Sept. 9, the House Judiciary Committee also plans to vote on three gun regulation bills. One would outlaw large capacity magazines, another would prevent people convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from owning a weapon, and another would help states pass laws to allow courts to take guns away from people who could pose a danger.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is also developing a bipartisan bill to help states adopt those so-called red flag laws.
House Democrats earlier this year passed a bill to make background checks on gun purchases universal, but the Republican-controlled Senate seems unlikely so far to pass that measure — even though there is evidence that supports that kind of intervention.
Boston University professor Michael Siegel and his colleagues recently published a study in The Journal of Rural Health showing that in urban settings, universal background checks resulted in a 13 percent reduction in the firearm homicide rate. Those kinds of universal background checks weren’t as effective in suburban and rural areas, but in those areas, laws that disqualified people with violent misdemeanors from gun ownership were able to reduce firearm homicide by 30 percent.
“The most effective way to intervene seems to be to prevent people who are at the highest risk of committing firearms violence from accessing a firearm,” Siegel told CQ Roll Call. “We know that the greatest risk factor for violence is a history of violence.”