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Millions for gun safety research approved by Congress for first time in decades

Such funding has long been banned by the "Dickey Amendment," which was backed by the NRA.
Image: Parkland In Mourning
Students and family members holds hands around a makeshift memorial in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in February 2018.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file

Lawmakers struck a bipartisan spending deal on Monday that for the first time in over 20 years would include funding for research on gun violence.

The bill, which the House is expected to vote on as soon as Tuesday, includes $25 million for research on gun safety. The money would by split between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and the National Institutes of Health, said one of the measure's advocates, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.

If approved by the House and the Senate and signed by the president, it would allow federal research on gun safety to go forward for the first time since 1996. That's when Congress passed — at the urging of the National Rifle Association — what became known as the Dickey Amendment.

The amendment barred the CDC from using federal money to "advocate or promote gun control" while eliminating money that had been allotted to conduct gun studies.

"With this investment, the best public health researchers in the country will be put to work to identify ways to reduce injury and death due to firearms," Lowey said.

Another of the measure's champions, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said new funding would "help us better understand the correlation between domestic violence and gun violence, how Americans can more safely store guns and how we can intervene to reduce suicide by firearms."

Democrats, who have railed against the prohibition for years, made some headway in last year's spending bill by adding language that said, "While appropriations language prohibits the CDC and other agencies from using appropriated funding to advocate or promote gun control ... the Secretary of Health and Human Services has stated the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence."

Gun safety advocates were unimpressed, noting that the bill included no money to actually conduct the research — something the new agreement would do.

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The announcement "is a huge victory in our nation's commitment to addressing and solving the gun violence epidemic,'' said Christian Heyne, vice president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Students graduating from college this spring have never lived in a United States where the federal government studied this issue. That ends today."

The Dickey Amendment was named after former Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., who sponsored the measure.

Before he died in 2017, Dickey expressed regret about the effect of the amendment and said he never intended for it to halt all research into gun violence.

"We didn't think about that," he told NPR in 2015. "It turned out that that's what happened, but it wasn't aimed at that. And it wasn't necessary that all research stop. It just couldn't be the collection of data so that they can advocate gun control. That's all we were talking about. But for some reason, it just stopped altogether."

While the National Rifle Association pushed for the Dickey Amendment, it maintains that it does not oppose gun research. Instead, the group says, it opposes research that is biased, flimsy or aimed at advocacy.