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EDITORIAL: Repeal the Dickey Amendment to allow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence

The Peace Monument stands in front of the Capital Building in Washington D.C..

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, many people are left with the same question: What do we do about gun violence?

“Banning guns” violates the Second Amendment and doing nothing is no longer an option.

In our lifetime, we have seen the headline “The worst mass shooting in U.S. history” too many times – Sandy Hook in Connecticut, Virginia Tech in Virginia, the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and now Las Vegas.

That’s four too many times.

Following the mass shooting in Orlando last year, gun violence was declared an epidemic in America. Epidemics need action, typically starting with research so we can fully explore the issue before deciding on a solution.

One of the problems with this epidemic – we don’t have any research because of former Arkansas Congressman Jay Dickey.

“Can you stop violence?” asked Dickey in a 1996 Congressional hearing. “You can’t stop violence unless you stop people from committing it, can you? How can you stop violence by attacking the gun?”

Mark Rosenberg, the man investigating gun violence as a public health problem at the Center for Disease Control, responded: “We’re not trying to attack the gun, sir. We’re trying to understand the problem…And absolutely yes, we can prevent violence.”

After this exchange, Dickey, the self-described point man for the National Rifle Association, created the Dickey Amendment. His legislation does not prevent the CDC from researching gun control, but it had the unintended consequence of shutting down all gun violence research at the agency.

This amendment, along with the lobbying power of the NRA, has effectively shut down meaningful research into gun violence in America for the last 21 years. 

Now is the time for change. 

Repealing the Dickey Amendment will allow researchers to search for precursors and warning signs of mass murderers before we have to read the headline, “Worst Mass Shooting in America” yet another time.

We know we can’t stop every shooter. There will always be people who evade detection and commit terrible crimes, like Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas gunman. He had no history of mental illness, no criminal record, or other red flags, but he is not a case study for these tragedies.

He’s the exception. 

But if research could help authorities identify the traits and behaviors shared by mass murderers and we are able to stop just one murderer, why shouldn’t we try? 

The Dickey Amendment was created because the NRA did not want the CDC advocating for stricter gun laws. 

We don’t want that either. We want smarter gun laws. 

The possible research could help create more succinct background checks and identifying clues to someone’s motive. The research will provide states and law enforcement data they need to tailor gun sale procedures and background checks in a safer and more proactive way.

Law enforcement needs the research that will help them identify ways to combat and prevent the next mass shooting. 

It’s common sense. What doesn't make sense is continuing to let the NRA shape all political policy in regards to firearm legislation. Even the Dickey seemed to have a change of heart after he helped the gun lobby forever alter the national's discussion about gun violence. The Congressman told the Huffington Post in 2015, “I wish we had started the research and kept it going all this time. We need to turn this over to science and take it away from politics.”

The prevention of researching gun violence stops us from understanding the warning signs like depression, threatening behavior and bipolar disorder, all things shooters have had in common, and how they can be recognized gun sellers and those around them.

It’s understandable that some people reading this are wary that this can lead to a slippery slope of putting limitations of their Second Amendment rights. 

We get it. But this isn’t about taking your guns away. This is about us as humans recognizing there should be a reasonable attempt to prevent these atrocities. Allowing the CDC to research gun violence is the most responsible and reasonable approach to preventing the next mass shooting.

How can we say there is no way to prevent mass shootings if we have no evidence and base to go forward from? Right now, understanding gun violence is a pitch-black cave and America is lost with nothing more than an empty matchbook. 

We need the research to illuminate the path so we can start searching for the solution.

Doing nothing, and hoping for the best, isn’t enough to stop mass murderers.