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  • Writer's pictureMichael McAuliff

Government Funding Bill Includes First Gun Study In 24 Years

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

Democrats are touting the wins they carved out in the long-delayed government funding bill, with a big one being money for the first federally backed research on gun violence since 1996.

According to a Democratic aide familiar with the package -- which is expected to be revealed later Monday -- the bill includes $25 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to finally resume study of the health concerns around guns.

Gun violence research was ended in 1996 by the Dickey Amendment to that year's funding bill. It barred money from going to promote gun control. The conservative interpretation was that research on gun violence could be construed to promote gun control, and research stopped.

Congress lifted the prohibition last year, and finally is adding the study money, marking a sea change in politicians' willingness to challenge the gun rights movement, which still holds enough sway in Congress to prevent most gun safety legislation despite broad public support for things like universal background checks and ammunition limitations.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who represented the district that included Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 when he won election to the Senate, has made gun violence one of his marquee issues. He had a hand in securing that $25 million as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and said in a statement that the changing attitudes on guns is part of why Congress is passing it.

“The politics of gun violence are literally shifting beneath our feet,” Murphy said. “We need to continue urging Mitch McConnell to schedule a debate and vote on universal background checks legislation in the Senate. We also came really close to an agreement with the White House to expand background checks earlier his year, and we have to remind Trump that we’re ready to pick those negotiations back up at any time.”

Anti-gun violence groups had lobbied for such funding and celebrated the news.

"Students graduating from college this spring have never lived in a United States where the federal government studied this issue," said Christian Heyne, the vice president of policy at Brady. "That ends today."

The research that comes from the cash infusion won't just focus on the high-profile mass shootings that generate attention and horror, but the more mundane slaughter of some 36,000 people a year. Researchers have long wanted to dig into the causes, extent and wide-ranging impacts of gun violence, especially things like suicide and family fire.

The funding bill, which runs through next September, also has a number of priorities Democrats were happy about, including $425 million for election security grants; $7.6 billion for the 2020 Decennial Census ($1.4 billion more than the president sought); $41.7 billion for medical research at the NIH (a $2.6 billion increase); $1.5 billion for state opioid response grants; and $9 billion for the EPA, including the highest level of funding since 2004 for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And federal workers get a 3.1 percent pay raise.

As a reminder of what it's taken for Congress to get just to funding research, here's Sandy Hook dad, Neil Heslin, testifying about what losing his child did to him and his family. The funding announcement comes two days after the anniversary of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 students and six adults.


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