Gun Research Will Get Even More Difficult Under NRA-Friendly Trump

Gun violence research is notoriously hard to fund. Since 1996, when an National Rifle Association-pressured Congress pulled all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding for gun-related research, UC Davis epidemiologist Garen Wintemute has shelled out over $1 million of his own money to keep his Violence Prevention Research Program going. That investment has paid off; 20 years later, the UC Davis program is one of the best in the country, and this week published a study finding registered California gun owners with a DUI or other alcohol-related crime on their record are four to five times more likely to be arrested for crimes involving a firearm.

These findings are consistent with national thinking—many states, from Maryland to Pennsylvania to Indiana, have laws that restrict alcohol abusers’ access to guns. But prior to this study, that common sense didn’t have hard data to back it up. Without CDC funding, researchers like Wintemute have had to cobble together smaller sums available through the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Justice, whatever they can scrape up from private foundations, and new state-funded projects like California’s Firearm Violence Research Center. But greater challenges lie ahead. Between a GOP-controlled Congress and an NRA-friendly president, gun violence researchers worry they’ll share climate scientistscash-free fate.

Wintemute’s research isn’t political: Data never really is. His most recent work merely shows a strong correlation between alcohol and gun abuse, even stronger than other variables he and his team tracked: being young, being male, having a history of violence.

But gun violence research becomes political when its results suggest policy change—usually, further restrictions on gun ownership. And the tension between data-based policy recommendations and pandering to political interest groups like the NRA results in toothless laws. “State law all over the country says if you abuse alcohol, you shouldn’t be allowed to use firearms,” says Wintemute. “In theory, the challenge isn’t to sell people on the idea, it’s changing how we enforce it.”

Some states’ laws regarding guns and booze are subjective and open to interpretation. Many prohibit alcohol abusers from buying guns, but who’s to say where that line should be drawn? “We should do for drinking and shooting what we did for drinking and driving—create something quantitative and enforceable,” says Wintemute. In Washington, DC, for example, two DUIs disqualifies you from gun ownership. With more laws like that, Wintemute argues, it would be easier to collect data on the effectiveness of enforcement measures and design new, more effective ones.

That data might be a long time coming. Trump’s team is much cozier with the NRA than the Obama administration had been, which has emboldened them to pursue a more aggressive agenda. “They are pushing for a national reciprocity law that says if you’ve got a gun permit in any state, you can take that gun anywhere in the country,” says John Donohue, a professor of law and economist at Stanford University who studies gun policy. That’s bad news for gun control-friendly states like California and New York, and for reputable researchers. “The federal government probably will not fund any research, unless they throw money to people who they know will come out with some NRA-sponsored conclusion,” says Donohue.

The federal funding channels that still exist are drying up: The NIH started calling for firearm violence-related research in 2013, but the program expired this month—and predictably, Congress hasn’t renewed it. The National Institute of Justice put out a request for gun violence research proposals last year, and while the new administration hasn’t retracted approval yet, scientists are skeptical: “It’s looking pretty grim, grimmer than usual,” says Frederick Rivara, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health. “When Sessions takes over the Department of Justice, I wouldn’t expect that to last.”

That leaves just a few solutions for researchers looking to study the impact of firearms and stay cash positive. Wintemute and Rivara expect private groups to shoulder some of the burden, and hope that state and local research funding efforts will continue. The country already has two good examples in California appropriating $5 million to establish its Firearm Violence Research Center, and Seattle allocating $153,000 for similar injury prevention research.

And contingency plans are underway to protect what data researchers have. “There are efforts to download the firearms violence data compiled by federal agencies, in case that data disappears,” says Wintemute. “Climate change researchers have been doing the same. It’s important to recognize that this is not specific for firearm violence research.” From environmental research to Zika virus prevention, the GOP-controlled Congress has proved itself tightfisted in funding politicized scientific inquiry—even when that research is vital. If these trends continue, gun violence research might be another Congressional casualty.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/01/gun-research-will-get-even-difficult-nra-friendly-trump/

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