The One about the CDC and Guns

October 17th, 2017

One of the canards we keep hearing from gun-control advocates is that the CDC is somehow banned from doing research on gun violence, and that this is a contributing factor to the problem. President Obama used it, Secretary Clinton used it, and the media has latched on to it since Newtown.

The problem is, it's an absolute lie. The CDC can do all the studies they want. However, if they want to do advocacy, they don't get federal funding to do so.

Their crusade against guns (particularly handguns) started in the 1970's, but things reached a head in 1993 with the publication of Arthur Kellerman's “Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home” study, which despite being easily and soundly debunked, was published and repeated like crazy among the media and gun-control advocates. Any time you hear "you're X times more likely to get shot if you own a gun," it's a reference to this study.

And Kellerman wasn't alone. Just about every article on the matter published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association in from 1985 to 1995 was obviously written to advocate for the banning or reduction of handguns, even when data didn't line up with that conclusion.

In 1994, Dr. Katherine Christoffel, a member of the CDC-funded Handgun Epidemic Lowering Plan was quoted as saying, “guns are a virus that must be eradicated… They are causing an epidemic of death by gunshot, which should be treated like any epidemic…you get rid of the virus…get rid of the guns, get rid of the bullets, and you get rid of deaths.”

Later that year, CDC head Mark Rosenberg told the Washington Post, “we need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like we did with cigarettes. Now it is dirty, deadly and banned.” He also published an article in one journal entitled "The Bullet as Pathogen."

This was pretty much the height of the gun-control movement in America. They had the sympathetic, unquestioning ear of the pre-internet, three-channel media. They had an administration in the White House who was willing to sign off on any legislation they could get through congress.

Then the Republicans took control of Congress, and in 1996, the Dickey Amendment was inserted into an omnibus spending bill. It stated, "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control." The $2.6 million that had been allotted for gun research was reallocated to the study of brain injuries.

At no point was any money actually cut from the CDC budget. In no way is the CDC prohibited from doing gun research. The only thing the Dickey Amendment does is deny funding for advocacy.  In fact, the Obama administration gave them $10 million in 2013 to do a study on gun violence. The Atlantic called it, "the “Executive Order the NRA Should Fear the Most."

Then the CDC did their study. The results (which the administration so wanted to be politicized their way) weren't what they wanted. Here are a few quotes:

Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was ‘used’ by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.

Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year…in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.

The number of public mass shootings of the type that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School accounted for a very small fraction of all firearm-related deaths. Since 1983 there have been 78 events in which 4 or more individuals were killed by a single perpetrator in 1 day in the United States, resulting in 547 victims and 476 injured persons.  [Remember this one when they tell you there's a mass shooting every day in this country.]

Unintentional firearm-related deaths have steadily declined during the past century. The number of unintentional deaths due to firearm-related incidents accounted for less than 1 percent of all unintentional fatalities in 2010.

There is empirical evidence that gun turn in programs are ineffective, as noted in the 2005 NRC study Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review. For example, in 2009, an estimated 310 million guns were available to civilians in the United States (Krouse, 2012), but gun buy-back programs typically recover less than 1,000 guns (NRC, 2005). On the local level, buy-backs may increase awareness of firearm violence. However, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, guns recovered in the buy-back were not the same guns as those most often used in homicides and suicides (Kuhn et al., 2002).

Whether gun restrictions reduce firearm-related violence is an unresolved issue.


The administration promptly buried it, which is why most people are unaware of it. In fact, they were given money, they did their survey, and it just didn't meet the a priori conclusions gun-control advocates wanted.

Whenever you hear a politician, news anchor, or Twitter celebrity tell you the CDC is banned from doing gun research, they are plainly and simply lying.

  1. JDenton wrote, running Mozilla Firefox 56.0 on Linux

    Just yesterday, there were journalists on Twitter openly discussing how to spin the San Antonio incident after it was revealed that a gun carrier chased back the gunman. What jems.

    Comment on November 6, 2017 @ 9:35 am

  2. Jake White wrote, running Mozilla Firefox 56.0 on FreeBSD

    Small arms don't win battles, there's not harm in the ruling class giving the citizenry small arms.

    Comment on November 20, 2017 @ 10:28 am

  3. Shinpai wrote, running Google Chrome 18.0.1025.133 on Linux

    Whoa, comments on here? Need to check my RSS feed more often :P

    Comment on November 21, 2017 @ 4:21 pm

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