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GOP Unlikely to Revisit Spending Ban on Gun Violence Research

Congress has restricted such endeavors for more than two decades

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole says it was “just not helpful to turn a funding bill into a debate over gun control.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole says it was “just not helpful to turn a funding bill into a debate over gun control.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republicans, at least for now, appear unlikely to allow federal funds for research on gun violence after a nearly 22-year prohibition.

Following yet another mass shooting on Wednesday, at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead, two key Republican appropriators said Thursday they don’t anticipate removing or altering an amendment in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill that bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using injury prevention research dollars “to advocate or promote gun control.”

“I would not imagine that that would change,” said Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Chairman Roy Blunt, who is working on his subcommittee’s portion of the fiscal 2018 omnibus measure due March 23. That is when the latest stopgap spending bill runs out, which will be nearly halfway through the current fiscal year.

The so-called Dickey amendment, named for the late Arkansas Republican Rep. Jay Dickey, was first added to the fiscal 1997 omnibus spending bill after CDC research into the connection between keeping guns in the home and the risk of suicide or homicide came to light. The CDC has interpreted the provision as preventing it from studying guns and gun violence.

Watch: Pelosi and Ryan Address Wednesday’s Gun Violence at Weekly Pressers

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House Republicans don’t seem inclined to revisit the Dickey amendment either.

“It’s just not helpful to turn a funding bill into a debate over gun control — particularly when it’ll be part of a bill that funds the entire government,” said House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole. The Oklahoma Republican added that he expects the issue will be raised at the committee level again, which is “perfectly appropriate.”

The National Rifle Association, which lobbied for the initial prohibition, has successfully maintained the language in subsequent spending bills. Still, not all Republicans seem reflexively opposed to revisiting the policy rider.

“I’m for letting a thousand flowers bloom. I think anybody who wants to study it — if you’ve got something to say on it — we should take that into account,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said. “I’m not familiar enough with it to be able to give you a definitive answer, but I don’t see why anybody should be worried about studying problems and potentially coming up with ideas for a solution.”

The Texas Republican also said he wouldn’t oppose adding his bipartisan gun background check bill to the omnibus.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reiterated their support on Thursday for stripping the Dickey Amendment out of the fiscal 2018 spending bill.

So did the top Democrat on the House Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro. “I’m going to fight like hell to get it out of the Labor-H bill,” she said. “We’re talking about research the CDC has been able to do on automobile safety and other areas. Why shouldn’t we do research here?”

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, said he will defer to subcommittee chairmen on policy riders. Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran declined to comment through a spokesman.

Long after sponsoring his initial amendment, Dickey appeared to have a change of heart, co-authoring a 2012 opinion piece in The Washington Post with the CDC’s top injury prevention official at the time the ban was imposed, calling on Congress to remove the limitation.

“Since the legislation passed in 1996, the United States has spent about $240 million a year on traffic safety research, but there has been almost no publicly funded research on firearm injuries,” wrote Dickey and Mark Rosenberg. “As a consequence, U.S. scientists cannot answer the most basic question: What works to prevent firearm injuries?”

So far in the 2018 cycle, the NRA has spent $589,000 on congressional campaigns, with $569,000 going to Republicans and under $20,000 going to Democrats, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

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