The war on research into gun violence began two decades ago when, with the backing of the National Rifle Association, the Republican-controlled Congress effectively killed off federal funding for it. A 1996 appropriation bill banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using any funds to “advocate or promote gun control,” which was interpreted as meaning any type of research on firearms deaths was prohibited. Soon afterwards, other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, were subject to the same requirements. Twenty years later, there remains a dearth of information on the public-health effects of gun violence, despite the more than 10,000 gun homicides that occur every year and their staggering costs.
Last week, David E. Stark, a physician and professor from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Nigam H. Shah, a researcher at Stanford University, published a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that puts the issue in bleak terms: “In relation to mortality rates, gun violence research was the least-researched cause of death.” Stark and Shah found that just $22 million in federal funds went towards researching gun violence between 2004 and 2015. If it the research had been funded at the same rate as other leading causes of death, gun violence research would have received $1.4 billion, they calculate.
For example, gun violence kills about as many people as sepsis annually. Yet, federal funding for gun violence research was less than 1 percent of that for sepsis over the 11-year period studied. And less common causes of death, including fires, malnutrition, anemia, and viral hepatitis, got much more research funding. “Given that gun violence disproportionately affects the young and inflicts many more nonfatal injuries than deaths, it is likely that the true magnitude of research funding disparity, when considering years of potential life lost or lived with disability, is even greater,” the researchers write.
The chart below shows just how little funding goes to research on gun violence relative to America’s other top causes of death.