Two senior House Democrats on Tuesday asked the National Institutes of Health to confirm whether it had discontinued funding for gun research after President Trump was inaugurated.
“We write to express concern about recent press reports that the National Institutes of Health has discontinued the dedicated funding program for gun violence research,” wrote Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Bobby Rush of Illinois.
Various news reports have indicated that funding for the research lapsed Jan. 8 and has not been renewed under the Trump administration. The call for confirmation comes after recent mass shootings that resulted in 59 deaths and 500 injuries in Las Vegas and 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas. On Tuesday, a gunman in Northern California killed four people and wounded a number of others at random.
In response, as in past shootings, some Democrats have been working to push for research on gun violence, calling it a public health issue. Gun rights advocates, including many Republicans, have said that framing is a thinly veiled attempt to eventually seize firearms or limit gun access.
Pallone and Rush asked NIH Director Francis Collins, a holdover from the Obama administration, to answer whether the program has been discontinued, and if so, why. They also asked for information about how many research grants were awarded to study gun violence.
Senate Democrats sent a similar letter to NIH in October, asking for the funding to be restored.
The House members cited the “Dickey Amendment" as one of the reasons for a lack of NIH funding on gun violence. The amendment, passed in 1996, prohibits federal funds from being used for advocating or promoting gun control, which Democrats accuse Republicans of interpreting as a federal ban on research.
"While not an explicit ban on gun violence research, it has had a chilling effect on such research for the past 20 years," Pallone and Rush wrote.
The initial research began after a gunman killed 26 children and teachers as well as himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Early the following year, former President Barack Obama directed NIH to research the causes of gun violence and how to prevent it. NIH in response created an $18 million gun violence research program in 2013.
“This funding was critical because the difficulty in obtaining federal research funding has limited the number of current researchers and the development of the next generation of researchers focused on gun violence prevention,” the congressmen wrote in their letter. “In fact, many graduate and professional students have avoided pursuing research into this subject due to how the lack of available funding for gun violence research affects their career prospects.”
It's not clear if the Trump administration plans to renew the NIH funding. Science magazine recently reported that the funding is under consideration, but no timeline has been set for making a decision.