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Gun control 101: Why is Obama pushing for new gun research?

A key part of President Obama's plan to rein in gun violence is his push to kick-start fresh gun-control-related research by federal agencies. Republicans have blocked such research in the past.

By Staff writer / January 19, 2013

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, talks at the White House in Washington Wednesday about proposals to reduce gun violence.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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Washington

This week President Obama outlined a sweeping package of proposed changes to America’s gun laws, including a federal ban on the manufacture and sale of new assault weapons and an expansion of background checks on firearm purchasers. But proponents of gun control say one of the most important pieces of the plan may be a smaller, less-noticed move: Mr. Obama’s attempt to end a 15-year ban on federal research into guns and violence.

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For years, some members of Congress have effectively blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies from conducting such research due to concerns about pro-gun control bias. On Wednesday, Obama said he’d use the powers of the presidency to change that situation.

“While year after year those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it.... We don’t benefit from ignorance,” said Obama.

Here are some basic questions and answers about the research issue:

What's stopping the government from studying guns and violence?

In 1996 some conservative members of Congress mounted an effort to eliminate the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control because they believed some researchers were cheerleaders for the anti-gun movement. In the end, they took the $2.6 million this center had spent on gun research the previous year, and earmarked it for brain-injury research. In addition, Congress added language to the CDC appropriation saying “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

It’s unclear exactly what sorts of things this phrase prohibits. But no federal employee was willing to risk their career to find out, according to a December Journal of the American Medical Association article. Several years later, Congress made the language applicable to the Department of Health and Human Services, as well.

“Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDC’s website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-related violence,” says the article by Arthur Kellermann and Frederick Rivara.

Generally speaking, gun-rights organizations oppose treating firearms as a public-health issue, as opposed to a constitutional right.

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