Policy Summary

For the first time in two decades, Congress has approved spending for research on gun violence. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) will receive $25 million. Previously, funding for such research has been barred by the Dickey Amendment, an NRA-backed rule which says the CDC cannot “advocate or promote gun control.” Congress has since recanted its previous position, stating that the CDC can conduct research that does not involve advocacy. The organizations will study a wide range of topics, including the link between domestic violence and gun violence, as well as suicides involving firearms.

In contrast to this surprising shift, H.R.8, or the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, has stalled in the Senate. The bill would mandate background checks when firearms are exchanged between private parties (e.g. consumers). More specifically, it would require a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer to preform a background check before the weapon can be transferred.

In spite of its name, the bill has failed to gain bipartisan support. It was sponsored by a Democrat, Mike Thompson of California’s 5th District. Of its nine original cosponsors, five were Republican, but it has not received any additional GOP cosponsors since its introduction. After being passed in the House in February, it was read in the Senate and placed on its legislative calendar. It has been largely ignored since, becoming one of hundreds of bills passed in the majority-Democrat House to languish in the Republican-controlled Senate.


Although Congress has been forced to acknowledge the epidemic of gun violence in our country, it stops short of enacting even basic protections for the public. The CDC and NIH research may eventually force its hand, but collecting and analyzing their findings will be a lengthy process. In the meantime, H.R.8 has another year to move forward before the 116th Congress concludes in January 2021. Unfortunately, this seems unlikely to happen given Mitch McConnell’s relish in making the Senate a graveyard for Democratic bills. In fact, he has publicly stated that he will not bring a gun bill to the floor unless President Trump agrees to sign it beforehand. With that in mind, H.R.8’s future looks bleak.

Even if H.R.8 were passed, it wouldn’t reach the foundations of the problem. It doesn’t address that background check requirements for licensed dealers are already too relaxed. As long as our government remains beholden to the NRA, meaningful change–and public safety–will be unattainable. Americans will continue to die en masse.

That said, the research may have an impact in the long run. Unbiased scientific evidence will allow the CDC and NIH to quantify the epidemic in a manner that’s difficult to refute. That is, the GOP’s deaf and dumb routine on gun violence will gradually become untenable. It’s a step in the right direction, though a small one in the face of our current crisis.


Photo by Max Kleinen

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