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By Bettina Weiss
December 22, 2015
Caption : Despite substantial efforts by Doctors for America, a ban on gun violence research stays attached to $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill.     

After weeks of negotiation, Republican and Democratic leaders agreed on a $1.1 trillion bill to fund the government until October 2016. Although there were some positive changes, including the renewal of a health program for the first responders to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, one terribly troubling rider remained attached to the bill. Despite substantial efforts from Doctors for America (DFA), an amendment that blocks the Center for Disease Control from researching gun violence remained on the bill. Doctors for America, a national organization consisting of doctors and medical students advocating for access to affordable health care, is a project of the Center for American Progress.

Representative Jay Dickey (R-AR), the author of the amendment in 1996, has stated repeatedly that he regrets offering the amendment and thinks it should be repealed. “Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners, in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile,” said Dickey.

The decision to leave the ban within the omnibus bill is puzzling considering some of the strong statements made by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last week. Last Thursday, Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that Democrats will insist that the research ban be removed from law as part of the bill. “In our negotiations, this is a priority for us. We will succeed if we have unity,” she said.

More than 100 House Democrats signed a letter asking for funding to gun violence research to be reinstated, and more than 2,000 doctors from all 50 states, organized by DFA wrote to Congress making the same request. Newly instated Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) had declined to comment specifically on the amendment, but was wary of policy provisions that he saw as necessary to bring wary Republicans on board to support the massive spending bill.

According to CNN Politics, Pelosi personally appealed to Ryan on the issue, but many Republicans and the NRA opposed, and it remained in the spending bill. Pelosi’s office could not be reached for comment.

In addition to various liberal politicians, groups including the Doctors Council, American Medical Women’s Association, National Physicians Alliance, American College of Preventive Medicine, The Committee of Interns and Residents, Physicians for the Prevention of Gun Violence, American Medical Student Association and American Academy of Pediatrics supported ending the ban.

Executive Director of Doctors for America, Dr. Alice Chen, expressed her disappointment in a press release.  “We are deeply disappointed that Congress has once again blocked the ability of our Nation’s leading health agencies to conduct gun violence research,” said Chen, “The medical and public health communities believe gun violence is a serious public health epidemic.  As health care providers, we are overwhelmed by the devastating injuries and 90 deaths a day from gun violence.”

Despite the setback, DFA isn’t backing down. “We continue to believe a central part of addressing these tragedies is through conducting rigorous scientific research, which has not happened for nearly 20 years,” said Chen. “The impact of federal research in reducing deaths from car accidents, smoking and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has been well proven.  It’s time to apply the same approach to reducing the threat of gun violence in our communities. The medical and public health community will keep bringing the public’s attention to this issue until Congress takes action to lift the effective ban and fund the research we need to save lives.”

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