House Republicans vote to defund CDC research into gun violence

Mariannette Miller-Meeks

House Republicans voted on Nov. 15 to prohibit the government from funding research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the causes and prevention of gun violence. Two hundred and sixteen GOP lawmakers backed the ban; all 207 Democrats present and four Republicans voted against it.

The vote came on an amendment offered by Iowa Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks to an appropriations package for the Labor, Human Services, and Education departments that said, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct or support any firearm injury and mortality prevention research.”  

Michigan Republican Reps. Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, John James, Lisa McClain, John Moolenaar, and Tim Walberg all voted in favor. All seven Democratic representatives voted no.

“As a physician and former Director of Public Health in Iowa, I believe that our leading public health agency should be focusing on researching and preventing communicable diseases, which was what the CDC was originally created to do – not prioritizing gun control,” Miller-Meeks wrote in a Nov. 15 tweet.

In a floor speech on Nov. 14, Miller-Meeks said, “Part of evaluating our public health departments is realizing when there are programs that do not add value or belong in the public health landscape.”

Opposing the amendment, Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro said, “Stat: Firearm injury is among the five leading causes of death for people aged one through 44 in the United States and the leading cause of death among children and teens aged one through 19.” 

“This is all about public health unless we don’t believe that the causes of death are a part of public health,” DeLauro added. “This amendment is absurd. Read the bill. Collecting timely data, addressing the gaps in knowledge around this issue, and identifying effective prevention strategies are needed to keep individuals, families, schools, and communities safe from firearm injury and death and to enhance safe firearm practices.”

Should the amendment become law, it would effectively revive a 1996 prohibition on CDC gun violence research known as the Dickey Amendment after its author, former Republican U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas. 

After a 2015 mass shooting in Oregon, Dickey told NPR that he regretted not making the restrictions more narrowly focused on gun control advocacy. “I’ve gone back through it in my mind to say, what could we have done, and I know what we could’ve done. We could’ve kept the fund alive and just restricted the expenditure of dollars.” A 2018 congressional spending bill loosened the prohibition.

Gun violence prevention advocates denounced the Miller-Meeks amendment’s passage.

“The gun industry is terrified of research into gun violence because they know it will disprove their big lie: that more guns make us safer,” Mark Collins, federal policy director for the organization Brady: United Against Gun Violence, said in an email. “Unbiased and nonpartisan research is critical in defeating this public health epidemic.”

“Gun violence is a public health crisis, and it demands a robust response from the federal government. The CDC already grants less funding for gun violence research than for nearly every other leading cause of death in America, and the Miller-Meeks amendment would block this critical research,” wrote Monisha Henley, senior vice president of government affairs at Everytown for Gun Safety in an email. “Despite significant bipartisan progress on gun safety in recent years, Speaker Johnson and gun-lobby backed House Republicans are hellbent on finding new ways to backtrack on advances we’ve made to keep communities safe. Everytown has repeatedly called on Congress to remove barriers and fully support gun violence research, and we’ll continue to fight to properly fund this lifesaving work.”

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 600 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2023 and more than 37,000 gun deaths.Congressional Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts to require universal background checks, implement a federal red flag law to temporarily disarm those judged to be an immediate danger to themselves or others, and to ban assault weapons with high-capacity magazines.