America loves guns. America also had 353 mass shootings (where there are at least four victims) in 2015, more than any other developed country.
Could the two be related?
It’s a strangely touchy question. Only hours before two Islamic extremists shot up a center for the disabled in San Bernardino, California, more than 2,000 physicians petitioned Congress to spare a penny for gun research.
The Centers for Disease Control hasn’t received any funding to study gun violence as a matter of public health since the 1990s. At the time, the CDC had been supporting a series of studies that seemed to bag on guns, which angered the National Rifle Association.
Lawmakers in cahoots with the NRA managed to ban gun research, claiming studies that suggest keeping a gun at home increases the risk of accidental homicide were nothing more than gun control propaganda.
Then there was the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012. This June, a white supremacist killed nine at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Just two weeks ago, white supremacists in Minneapolis were involved in the shooting of five 4th Precinct protesters.
Now that the flags seem to be flying half-mast every other day, Democrats are demanding tighter restrictions on gun purchases, background checks, and a ban on military-style assault weapons. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have warmed to gun violence research. Even Jay Dickey, the former Arkansas Republican who championed the original research restrictions back in 1996, recently sent a letter to the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force to say he never meant to quash science.
“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,” Dickey wrote.
Nevertheless, bills repeatedly introduced in Congress to increase funding for gun research haven't gotten anywhere yet. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) have been trying to funnel cash to the CDC since 2013, and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) introduced another bill to the same tune early last month.
At least five out of 10 of Minnesota's elected officials in Washington — all Democrats — feel strongly that gun violence should be studied as a public health issue. Representatives Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Rick Nolan as well as Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar all answered more scientific information would only make common sense.
"[Ellison] absolutely thinks it's one of the most important things that we can do to even start combating the epidemic of gun violence in this country," said Isaiah Kirshner-Breen, his spokesman.
McCollum is co-sponsoring the Maloney bill. Nolan is co-sponsoring a related one that would require the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service to submit annual reports on the effects of gun violence on public health. Franken and Klobuchar are all for expanded background checks and other gun-safety measures.
Rep. Tim Walz (D) was more hesitant. His spokeswoman Sara Severs said that Walz believes separately in research and in the importance of the CDC, but declined to answer whether Walz supports research of gun violence.
Rep. Collin Peterson (D), who often defects from his party in strict loyalty to his farmer constituency, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Neither did Republican Reps. John Kline, Tom Emmer, or Erik Paulsen.