The Centers for Disease Control will once again turn its attention to guns.
That was the message from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky as she announced the agency’s plans to undertake more gun-violence research. On Friday, she told CNN “something has to be done” about the issue, and the agency believes “it’s pedal to the metal time” despite continuing concerns from gun-rights advocates. She said the agency needed to act quickly as murders spike in cities across the country.
“Every day we turn on the news, and there are more young people dying,” Walensky told the news station. “I swore to the President and to this country that I would protect your health. This is clearly one of those moments, one of those issues, that is harming America’s health.”
The CDC’s foray into matters of gun research has been a polarizing force in the history of American gun politics. In 1996, gun-rights advocates successfully lobbied Congress to slash the CDC’s funding for gun research due to the belief that its work was politically motivated. They pointed to public statements from Dr. Mark Rosenberg, then the director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, as evidence of the political motivation.
“We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes,” Rosenberg said in 1994. “It used to be that smoking was a glamour symbol, cool, sexy, macho. Now it is dirty, deadly, and banned.”
Walensky claimed the new research would not be about gun-control advocacy but about studying ways to prevent harm from firearms.
“I’m not here about gun control,” she said. “I’m here about preventing gun violence and gun death.”
She promised to work with gun owners as part of the initiative, which she argued would focus not on preventing gun ownership, as was Rosenberg’s stated goal, but on preventing violence.
“We cannot understand the research of firearm violence, firearm injury, without embracing wholeheartedly, the firearm owning community,” Walensky said. “I really do believe that the population of people who wants to own a gun doesn’t want people hurt by them. The majority of the population does not want people hurt by them. I want them at the table.”
In 2018, then-president Donald Trump (R.) signed an omnibus spending bill that included the repeal of the decades-long restriction against the CDC using research funds to “advocate or promote gun control”–which opponents argued stymied all government research into guns. That led to millions in congressional funding for new research on guns in 2020 and 2021, which the agency is already using to study the risk of veteran suicide by gun, effects of gun violence on children, and the effectiveness of “firearms safety policies” among other topics.
Even though millions of dollars have been spent on dozens of privately-funded academic studies in recent years, Walensky said the issue of gun violence has been under-studied in America to this point.
“My job is to understand and evaluate the problem, to understand the scope of the problem, to understand why this happens and what are the things that can make it better – to research that, to scale that up, to evaluate it and to make sure that we can integrate it into communities,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do in every single one of those areas because we haven’t done a lot of work as a nation in almost any of them.”