Saturday, October 14, 2017
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined 26 of his Senate colleagues Oct. 11 in urging the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to renew a recently lapsed funding opportunity for firearm violence research.
Following the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, President Obama directed the Department of Health and Human Services to research the causes of gun violence and how it can be prevented, resulting in the creation of a new funding opportunity to support research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Mental Health, among other parts of NIH. From 2014 to 2017, NIH provided $18 million to 22 projects to study gun violence, which the American Medical Association has described as a “’public health crisis’ requiring a comprehensive public health response and solution.”
In a letter to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, the senators cited NIH leadership and researchers who noted the importance of this funding in furthering the agency’s mission to promote and improve health outcomes, and in understanding “how science can save lives.” Despite calls from numerous public health experts to renew the program, the funding opportunity closed on Jan. 8, 2017, and NIH has yet to release a timeline for its decision on renewal of the funding. Here is the text of the letter, edited for space:
We are writing today to urge the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to renew a recently lapsed funding opportunity for firearm violence research.
Every year, over 30,000 Americans die in gun-related fatalities. In 2017 alone, over 11,900 people have died, and over 24,300 people have been injured, from gun violence. Our nation has experienced 278 mass shootings, including the horrific massacre in Las Vegas, and over 1,500 people have been injured by accidental shootings. Gun-related fatalities have surpassed motor vehicle deaths in 21 states, and the American Medical Association has described gun violence in America as a “‘public health crisis’ requiring a comprehensive public health response and solution.”
In spite of the toll of gun violence on Americans’ health and safety, a dearth of scientific research has hindered efforts to reduce gun-related fatalities and injuries. The Dickey Amendment, which has been largely interpreted as a congressional ban on federal funding for gun research at CDC, has played a large role in perpetuating the gun violence research gap. The Dickey Amendment only prohibits research “to advocate or promote gun control” — not objective scientific inquiries into gun violence prevention — yet it has had a chilling effect on gun-related studies. When compared to other leading causes of death, gun violence is “substantially underfunded and understudied ... based on mortality rates for each cause.”
Following the shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, President Obama directed the Department of Health and Human Services to “conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it.”
In response, the NIH issued a new funding opportunity for “Research on the Health Determinants and Consequences of Violence and its Prevention, Particularly Firearm Violence.” The funding opportunity supported research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), among other segments of NIH.
Researchers agreed that the funding opportunity was essential to combatting the public health ramifications of gun violence. According to one clinical psychologist, the funding opportunity was “mission critical to bringing me into a new area (of gun research).”
Another argued that, “It would have been much harder ... to get funding for (gun) research without that specific program announcement on firearm violence.” Ultimately, from 2014 to 2017, the NIH provided $18 million to 22 projects studying gun violence. The funding opportunity closed on Jan. 8, 2017. Numerous public health experts have urged the NIH to renew the program.
Thanks in part to NIH-funded projects, the average American’s life expectancy increased by eight years between 1970 and 2013, heart disease deaths fell by 67.5 percent from 1969 to 2013, and cancer deaths decreased by 15 percent from 2003 to 2012. With 93 Americans dying per day from gun-related fatalities, it is critical that NIH dedicate a portion of its resources to the public health consequences of gun violence. We strongly urge you to renew the gun violence research program as soon as possible.