Cortez Masto, Warren, Murphy Lead Colleagues in Urging NIH to Renew Funding for Firearm Violence Research
Las Vegas, Nev. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) today led 24 of their colleagues 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 Barack 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 (NIMH), among other parts of the NIH. From 2014 to 2017, the 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 January 8th, 2017, and the NIH has yet to release a timeline for its decision on renewal of the funding.
“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,” wrote the senators. “We strongly urge you to renew the gun violence research program as soon as possible.”
Gun violence, a leading cause of death in the United States, has historically been understudied and underfunded, due in part to the Dickey Amendment, which has effectively banned federal funding for research on the issue at the CDC. In their letter, the senators noted that while the amendment does bar research promoting gun control, it does not prohibit objective, scientific inquiries into prevention.
In addition to Senators Cortez Masto, Warren, and Murphy, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Menéndez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
The text of the letter can be found here and below:
Dr. Francis S. Collins
National Institutes of Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20892
Dear Director Collins:
We are writing today to urge the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to renew a recentlylapsed
funding opportunity for firearm violence research..
Gun Violence in the U.S. is "Underfunded and Understudied"
Every year, over 30,000 Americans die in gun-related fatalities. 1 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.2 Gun-related fatalities have
surpassed motor vehicle deaths in 21 states3, and the American Medical Association has
described gun violence in America as a "'public health crisis' requiring a comprehensive public
health response and solution."4
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. 5 The Dickey Amendment only prohibits research "to advocate or promote gun control"-not objective
scientific inquiries into gun violence prevention6-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."7
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Gun Violence Research is in the "Sweet Spot" of NIH's Efforts to "Save Lives"
Following the shooting of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in
2012,8 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."9 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 ofNIH. 10
During a 2015 hearing on mental health challenges in the U.S., Dr. Thomas Insel, the
then-Director of the NIMH, touted the funding opportunity as a critical piece of the NIH's efforts
to "understand how science can save lives." 11 Discussing projects to "assess risk for someone
when they have made a suicide attempt" and to develop an understanding of "developmental
pathways of violence," Dr. Insel described the funding opportunity as "in the sweet spot" of the
NIH' s mission to promote and improve health. 12
Renewal of the Funding Opportunity Is Critical to Our Nation's Efforts to Combat Gun Violence
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]."13 Another
argued that "[i]t would have been much harder ... to get funding for [gun] research without that specific program announcement on firearm violence." 13 Ultimately, from 2014 to 2017, the NIH
provided $18 million to 22 projects studying gun violence. 14 The funding opportunity closed on
January 8, 2017. Numerous public health experts have urged the NIH to renew the program. 15
Given Dr. Insel's promotion of the gun violence funding opportunity as in the "sweet
spot" of the NIH's efforts to "save lives" - and the devastating impact of gun violence across the
country - we were surprised by recent reports that the NIH may not renew the program.
According to Science magazine, renewal of the funding opportunity is "under consideration."
The NIH is "evaluating the current program's outcomes and has no timeline [set] for a decision
on its renewal." 16
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% from 1969 to 2013;
and cancer deaths decreased by 15% from 2003 to 2012. 17 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.
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