Federal dollars for research into gun violence are hard to come by, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reluctant to challenge a 20-year Congressional restriction on funding firearms studies. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has awarded more than $3.3 million to five private institutions for firearms research, The Trace reports. The funding will support inquiries into some of the most pressing questions regarding gun violence, including what leads some young people to carry guns, which state laws might reduce or increase firearms deaths, and how often civilians are shot by law enforcement officers.
The funding is “still very small potatoes,” says David Hemenway of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, whose plan for a study of police shootings was awarded more than $650,000. “It’s a nice grant,” he says. “But in terms of the size of the gun problem in the United States, the total amount of federal research dollars is minuscule compared to HIV or obesity.” Researcher Karen Abram of Northwestern University was awarded $425,000 by NIJ to investigate if an adolescent’s exposure to firearms can affect the likelihood of being shot or committing a gun crime later in life. Researchers hope to identify what factors — like marriage, education, or a change in socioeconomic status — might alter a child’s path toward safer outcomes. The CDC, with $5 billion to spend annually, has avoided the gun issue since 1996, when Republicans in Congress, spurred by the National Rifle Association, passed an amendment stipulating that none of the agency’s budget can be used to “advocate or promote gun control.” The agency fears that any perceived violation of that rule could result in cuts to its overall funding, though critics say the agency could do more without running afoul of the provision. The National Institute of Health has awarded $3.2 million in four years for gun violence research.