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A Necessary Push for Research on Gun Violence

We strongly support Williams’s statement urging the federal government to resume funding research on gun violence

On Feb. 14, seventeen students and faculty members were killed in a horrific mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. In the wake of this massacre, Dean of the School of Public Health Michelle Williams issued a statement to HSPH affiliates calling for an end to the federal restriction on most forms of gun violence research passed in 1996.

This provision, informally known as the Dickey Amendment, threatens to strip funding from government-funded agencies such as the Center for Disease Control if they conduct any research intended to “advocate or promote gun control.” At the same time that the law was passed, Congress lowered the CDC’s budget by the exact same amount it spent on such research. The Dickey Amendment functions as a gag rule, inhibiting the CDC from utilizing its highly trained public health researchers to combat what has become a uniquely American epidemic of gun-related deaths. We strongly support Williams’ stance against the Dickey Amendment and hope that her statement will help lead to substantive increases in research funding.

In light of a seemingly endless news cycle of mass shootings and gun violence, we believe that the federal government must support research on what has become a public health and safety crisis. To move forward and better protect our fellow citizens, the issue of preventing gun violence must be moved out of the sphere of political talking points and into the realm of nonpartisan, academically rigorous research. For this transition to occur, we need scientific evidence. And while private research institutions have attempted to fill the void left by the Dickey Amendment, its effect remains far-reaching and devastating.

The Dickey Amendment has wrongfully stymied publicly-funded research on gun violence research for over twenty years. We find it telling that even Jay Dickey, a key proponent of the provision, has since reversed his position and called for increased funding for gun violence research in 2015. Scientific research should not be politicized, especially when it could be used as a potent tool to save lives and reduce gun violence.

We hope that Williams and other Harvard leaders lobby our lawmakers and counter the heinous actions of the National Rifle Association, which has bankrolled the campaigns of many prominent politicians, disincentivizing them from making any effort to decrease gun violence beyond “thoughts and prayers.” Thoughts and prayers are not enough when lives are at stake. We need more funding, we need more research, and, ultimately, we need better laws.

Additionally, we hope that Williams’s public advocacy is followed by clear, strong, concrete actions to increase sorely needed research in this area. We recognize that change in the public sphere can be slow, and it may be years before the CDC will receive funding again for research on gun violence. In the meantime, Harvard should seek ways to privately fund gun control research.

Gun violence should not be a partisan issue. While William’s stance on gun violence research may seem political, this is merely a symptom of us living in a society that has turned what should be a nonpartisan issue—our overwhelming number of gun-related deaths in comparison with any other developed country—into a politicized debate. Academic research into gun violence can and should strive to be to be nonpartisan and non-biased, seek out solutions that objectively work, and hopefully, ensure that Parkland was America’s last school shooting.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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