Five senators have asked the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to respond to questions surrounding the agency’s decision to scrub gun defensive use stats from its website at the behest of gun-control advocates.
The Republican senators told CDC Director Rochelle Walensky they believe the move damaged the agency’s credibility in a letter sent on Thursday. They asked her to turn over any documentation related to the private meeting CDC officials held with the advocates on September 15th, 2021, which The Reload first reported. The senators said the scrubbing of the self-defense estimates and a link to a CDC-commissioned review of them amounted to an act of censorship that left Americans less informed about the issue, something they said was the goal of the advocates involved.
“As reported in an article recently published in The Reload, the CDC opted to delete a reference to a study regarding DGUs after an extensive lobbying effort from gun control organizations including Gun Violence Archive, Newtown Action Alliance, and GVPedia,” the letter said. “The study estimated DGUs as frequently as 2.5 million times per year in the United States. These groups argued the estimates have created a roadblock to enacting further restrictions on the Second Amendment.”
Senators Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), Bill Cassidy (R., La.), Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), and Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) signed on to the letter.
The involvement of leading Republican senators, including the ranking member on the committee that oversees the CDC (Cassidy), in asking questions about why the website was edited in response to private requests from gun-control advocates, who were connected to CDC officials by the President Biden’s White House and who made their political motives clear, puts further pressure on the agency to respond. The senate letter comes just after two House Republicans, Representatives Elise Stefanik (NY-21) and August Pfluger (TX-11), fired off their own letter to the CDC demanding answers and a reversal of the move. The scrutiny comes at a time when Republicans are set to take over control of the House, and the CDC is pouring millions of dollars into new research “to inform the development or improvement of prevention programs, policies, or practices that have the potential to substantially reduce firearm-related violence, injuries, death or crime within populations or settings experiencing elevated risk.”
If the agency is unable to explain why it removed references to its previous research in a way that placates Republican lawmakers, it risks a rollback in its relationship with the pro-gun legislators who had only recently and reluctantly agreed to reopen Congress’s purse to that sort of research after a decades-long hiatus.
CDC spokesperson Bert Kelly told The Reload he would look into the agency’s response to the lawmakers’ letters but did not have an immediate response. He previously said the CDC nixed the estimate of 60,000 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses per year because it “determined that such a wide range is not easily understandable and may be outdated.” He noted they removed both the high-end and low-end estimates while replacing them with a note about how more research was needed.
“Science leads all CDC decisions,” Kelly told The Reload. “Our goal is to present the science and the data objectively and in language that is easy to understand.”
The senators rejected the idea that removing the estimates and link to the CDC-commissioned paper Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence was part of an effort to inform the public rather than please a political interest group.
“Eliminating a credible study and its findings hurts public health, and the credibility of the CDC, by not allowing transparent access to all relevant research,” the senators wrote. “The removal of the referenced study was not due to updated research. Instead, based on the released emails from the FOIA request, the removal of this study appears only to have been done to appease gun control groups and to suppress any data that firearms are in fact an essential lifesaving and protection tool.”
They told Walensky that allowing “lobbying groups” to “influence your research and reporting” is a “dereliction of duty.”
“The CDC must return to providing transparent and data-driven reporting on DGUs, and to provide Congress and the American people with an explanation of why the CDC allowed gun control advocates to censor valid research and reporting conducted on the subject of defensive gun use,” the senators said.
The senators listed several questions they want the agency to answer in addition to turning over records of its September 15th meeting with the gun-control advocates. They asked whether any other executive branch employees were involved in setting up the meeting, who decided to change the CDC’s website language after the meeting, whether the White House approved that change, and whether the CDC engaged with any “pro-Second Amendment groups” before making the change.
Kelly did not directly answer whether the CDC asked for input on the move from anyone outside the agency besides the gun-control advocates when asked by The Reload. However, he said the agency regularly works with many outside organizations, including gun-rights groups.
“CDC does not advocate for or against gun policies,” Kelly told The Reload. “CDC engages with a wide variety of partners every day. It is not unusual for partners to be connected to the agency through members of Congress or the White House. In the past year alone, CDC has met with a number of organizations interested in the topic of firearm injury and violence prevention-including gun rights organizations, gun violence prevention organizations, public health organizations, and medical societies.”
The senators told the CDC they wanted answers to their questions before the end of the year.