The Dickey Amendment: A Detriment to Public Health Research

By Morgan Whaley, Research Assistant, Center for Health Equity Engagement Education and Research

In the early 1990s, the CDC Center for Injury Prevention and Control focused research on how to reduce deaths and injuries from violence and was starting to identify guns as a serious issue. A 1993 study with Arthur Kellerman indicated that a firearm in home increased risk of homicide. The NRA (national Rifle Association) and some congressional members accused the CDC of being biased and trying to promote gun control. This led to the birth of the Dickey Amendment in 1996. It stated that federal spending could not be used, “in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control”. This amendment was put in place to protect the second amendment right to bear arms. In addition to the amendment, the $2.6 million the CDC used on gun violence research that year would now be allocated to study traumatic brain injuries.

The impact of the amendment was massive. Because of the Dickey Amendment, little research has been done on gun violence. There was a massive decline in publications on gun violence and major gaps in usable data. The government is unable to make informed policy decisions on guns and firearms because there is no research to inform these decisions.  Since the Dickey Amendment was passed in 1996, about 600,000 lives have been lost due to gun violence. Within the general public, gun violence is the 12th leading cause of death but the second to least funded. Amongst children and adolescents, gun violence is the second leading cause of death.

In 2018, the same year as the Parkland shooting, the bill was “clarified” to say that research on gun violence is allowed but the CDC and NIH are not allowed to advocate or promote gun control. And in 2019, Congress allocated $25 million to study violence. While this is a step in the right direction, we find ourselves behind in the battle to combat gun deaths. And with the amendment still enforced and active, we face many questions. What will research and interventions look like in gun violence studies? What is the relationship between research and advocacy/promotion? And when does research cross the line into advocacy?