'90 deaths a day': US doctors call for end to ban on gun violence research

© Baz Ratner
A group of US doctors has called on Congress to lift a decades-long ban that prohibits the use of federal money for gun violence research. The move comes as mass shootings in the US are on a rise, with estimated 90 people dying daily in gun-related violence.

The group presented a petition signed by more than 2,000 physicians from across the USA, calling on Capitol Hill to put an end to the so-called Dickey Amendment, which has been blocking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from carrying out research on gun violence for the last two decades.

Doctors for America led a press conference on Wednesday and were joined by a handful of Democrats. Several speeches were held at Capitol Hill, stressing that gun violence in the US is a public health crisis that needs urgent solutions.

“Gun violence is a public health problem that kills 90 Americans a day,” Dr Alice Chen, executive director of the lobby group Doctors for America, said. “Physicians believe it’s time to lift this effective ban and fund the research needed to save lives. We urge Congress to put patients over politics to help find solutions to our nation’s gun violence crisis.”

Another doctor at the presser, Nina Agrawal, a pediatrician from the South Bronx, expressed her disappointment with how little has been accomplished in the past 20 years. “In my career, I’ve seen children lives saved from measles, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, motor vehicle accidents… because of federal scientific data and research. It’s frustrating that the CDC is not permitted to do the same type of research for gun violence.”

The calls for more funds for research into gun violence come as the Americans deal with the shock of two mass shootings in just one week. Last Friday, November 27, a gunman opened fire at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, leaving three dead.

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This was followed by a tragic mass shooting in San Bernadino, California, on Wednesday, where 14 people were killed and 17 more wounded. Police said a couple went on a shooting spree at a regional center that aids people with disabilities. They were killed during a shootout with police after a manhunt.

The US has one of the world's worst records for gun crimes, with the latest attack in San Bernardino being the 353rd mass shooting in 2015. Moreover, there are about 33,000 Americans that are killed every year with firearms.

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The doctors’ groups compared gun violence to traffic accidents, stating that both kill around the same number of people each year in the US. The doctors added that the federal government has allocated $240 million a year for traffic safety research during the past two decades, while no money has been spent on analysis of gun violence. 

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The ban that blocks the use of federal funding for gun violence research stems from 1996, when Congress passed the amendment following pressure from the National Rifle Association as well as various pro-gun lobbyists. Previous efforts to overturn the ban have failed. President Barack Obama has unsuccessfully asked for $10 million for gun violence research in the past two budgets.

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“For over 20 years, politicians have put a gag order on public health research for gun violence only to score political points,” Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said. “On public health matters, it’s critical we listen to doctors – not politicians.”

The attempts to lift the ban have been squashed by Republicans, who continue to deny the link between gun violence and public health.