In 1995, when Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment insisted on preparing reports that were occasionally inconvenient for Republicans, Newt Gingrich knew what to do: he eliminated the office. In 2005, when an annual government report showed an increase in global terrorism, George Bush knew what to do: he stopped publishing the report. When the Congressional Research Service released a study earlier this year concluding that tax cuts had no impact on economic growth, the GOP caucus knew what to do: they insisted that CRS withdraw the study. For similar reasons, Republicans routinely attack the CBO, the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Government Accountability Office, and, most famously, the BLS when it reported a drop in the unemployment rate just before this year’s election.
But hey—at least the federal government can still study gun violence. Right? In JAMA today, Arthur Kellermann and Frederick Rivara set us straight:
The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997. But in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center….the following language was added to the final appropriation: “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.”
Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out….Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDC’s website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-related violence.
When other agencies funded high-quality research, similar action was taken. In 2009, Branas et al published the results of a case-control study that examined whether carrying a gun increases or decreases the risk of firearm assault. In contrast to earlier research, this particular study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Two years later, Congress extended the restrictive language it had previously applied to the CDC to all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.
These are not the only efforts to keep important health information from the public and patients. For example, in 1997, Cummings et al used state-level data from Washington to study the association between purchase of a handgun and the subsequent risk of homicide or suicide. Similar studies could not be conducted today because Washington State’s firearm registration files are no longer accessible.
The conservative war on reality continues apace. If you don’t like what’s happening in the real world, simply defund anyone who tries to report on it. Mission accomplished!