Sumit Kumar, Managing Editor
Today, there remains one unfortunate cold hard fact; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), still lacks public funding for research on gun violence. To put this into perspective consider the following; every day on average, there are almost 300 Americans who are shot, 90 of whom are killed. By some estimates, every year this equates to about 750,000 years of potential life lost.
Clearly, there is a need for research on gun violence. Yet how did we, as a society, get to the point of banning it?
In 1993, a landmark study led by Dr. Arthur L. Kellerman was published entitled, Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home. This study revealed “keeping a gun in the home is independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide in the home.” Republicans, with backing from the National Rifle Association (NRA), viewed such research as an existential threat to 2nd Amendments rights. Consequently, in 1996, through a provision in an appropriations bill, research involving guns was defunded. One of the authors, Representative Jay Dickey from Arkansas, specified the following, “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.”
As a medical student nearing graduation, I find this ban on research as a direct harm to patients. Medical training emphasizing the use of evidence, real hard facts, in making decisions. How do we get this so called “evidence”? On any given day, doctors and scientists are performing important research to help better the lives of patients. Lives can be improved not only by cures and medications, but in discovering the knowledge that helps patients make better, healthier decisions.
Let’s get one thing clear, the 2nd amendment will never be repealed, nor should it. The right to bear arms is part of the very fabric of this nation; it provides people an individual choice to own a gun or not. A choice that requires one to take responsibility for their fire-arm and who has access to it. A choice that requires one to assess if a gun will indeed make them safer or not. A choice that requires society to prevent those held irresponsible (such as those suffering from severe psychiatric disorders, ex-convicts, or even people on a no-fly list, from purchasing a gun). This choice requires asking many many questions; questions that can only be answered effectively through research. Research is not meant to outlaw guns, but to help figure out how to responsibly uphold the 2nd amendment, and allow the public better information to make a more knowledgeable choice.
President Obama and his administration understand these principles, and have done a sincere job to change the status quo. After the Newton massacre, Obama announced 23 executive actions in January of 2013, and one in particular was an order to the CDC to start conducting research on gun violence. Unfortunately, Congress still to this day blocks funding. Ironically, Representative Dickey has reversed his views, stating “we should slowly but methodically fund such research until a solution is reached. Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution.”
Fortunately, there has been a profound breakthrough. The CDC wisely commissioned the help of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the leading non-partisan authority on medical issues, in creating an agenda for the type of research questions that are to be studied. The IOM published a report entitled “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence” (See Figure 1 for examples). This report was best summarized by one of its authors Alan Leshner, “Although this research agenda is an initial, not all-encompassing set of questions, it could help better define the causes and prevention of firearm violence in order to develop effective policies to reduce its occurrence and impact in the U.S.”
As a future doctor, I am hopeful that some if not all of IOM’s questions will begin to be answered in the near future. I am hopeful that one day doctors will be able to advise patients on the risks and benefits of gun ownership and exposure using real evidence. For the sake of patients’ wellbeing, it is time for Congress to appropriate funds to the CDC for research on gun violence.
One historic figure often celebrated at NYU is Jonas Salk, who through research, was able to create the Polio vaccine. His legendary words still hold true today, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.”
Sumit R. Kumar is an M.D., M.P.A. candidate at NYU. He is pursuing a career in Internal Medicine. Follow Sumit on Twitter. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of NYU or any other entity.