Editorial: Dickey Amendment keeps us from getting facts on guns

  • Late in life, Jay Dickey (left) came to regret the gun-related amendment that bears his name. The man who replaced Dickey in the House, Democrat Mike Ross, is shown at right in this Oct. 13, 2002, file photo. AP

Published: 2/22/2018 1:52:24 PM

A July 27, 2012, op-ed in the Washington Post closed with these words: “Most politicians fear talking about guns almost as much as they would being confronted by one, but these fears are senseless. We must learn what we can do to save lives. It is like the answer to the question ‘When is the best time to plant a tree?’ The best time to start was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now.”

The column was written by Jay Dickey, a former U.S. representative from Arkansas, and Mark Rosenberg, a former director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The two teamed up because they were in complete agreement “that scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries and that ways to prevent firearm deaths can be found without encroaching on the rights of legitimate gun owners.”

The problem was that a 1996 amendment to that year’s government spending bill (an amendment that has been renewed as part of every spending bill since) prevented the CDC from “advocating or promoting gun control” in any way. The message was clear: No federal money was to be spent on studying the causes and prevention of injuries and deaths from firearms in the United States.

The rule bears the name of the House member who considered himself the NRA’s point man on Capitol Hill. It’s known as the Dickey amendment.

Jay Dickey died last year, and it’s nice that he spent the latter part of his life trying to eliminate the anti-knowledge amendment he gave birth to. As part of his mea culpa, he told ABC News that “I wish I had not been so reactionary.” We wish he hadn’t been either, but here we are more than two decades and hundreds of thousands of gun-related deaths later and the Dickey amendment is still on the books.

In Thursday’s Monitor, letter writer Mike Bradley of Hillsboro wrote, “Don’t be confused by the CDC’s title; the agency’s mission statement includes taking effective action to mitigate public health issues in general, not just diseases.” He is absolutely right, and we don’t understand how anyone can see American gun violence as anything other than a public health crisis worthy of federally funded research.

The debate over the Dickey amendment is rekindled after every mass shooting, it seems, but last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., may prove to be the tragedy that finally pushes Republicans to get rid of it. In an interview with WIBC Radio in Indianapolis, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “We don’t just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data.” Other House Republicans have said they don’t have a problem with investigating gun violence. So what’s the hold up? If they are sincere about addressing the problem, why not ask the CDC for “the facts and the data” they claim to want?

We understand why the NRA, controlled by gun manufacturers, pushed for that legislation more than 20 years ago and has lobbied for it ever since. It’s all about gun sales. But we cannot fathom why any lawmaker, even those who take money from the NRA, would continue to support it while kids are getting blown away. We want to know how to stop it. As representatives of the people, they should too.

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