WASHINGTON — On Wednesday morning, a group of doctors in white coats arrived on Capitol Hill to deliver a petition to Congress. Signed by more than 2,000 physicians around the country, it pleads with lawmakers to lift a restriction that for nearly two decades has essentially blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun violence.
Joined by a handful of Democratic lawmakers, the doctors spoke about the need to view gun violence as a public health epidemic and research ways to solve it – as the country would with any disease causing the deaths of thousands of Americans each year.
“It is disappointing that we have made little progress over the past 20 years in finding solutions to gun violence,” said Nina Agrawal, a New York physician and member of the advocacy group Doctors for America, according to the group’s Twitter feed.
“We should all be able to agree that this debate should be informed by objective data and scientific research,” said Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina.
The group cited a letter released by former Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas, who authored an amendment that restricted federal funding for research into gun violence and its effects on public health. He now regrets that effort.
“Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners,” wrote Dickey, who has said he only wanted to ensure that no dollars went to gun control advocacy. “Somehow or someway we should slowly but methodically fund such research until a solution is reached. Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution.”
After the speeches and presentations, after the group posed for pictures, Wednesday’s event ended. The crowd dispersed. And hours later, another mass shooting began to unfold in San Bernardino, California. Multiple shooters, multiple victims – with 14 dead.
Perhaps that’s not as much of a coincidence as it might seem, given that the United States has experienced an average of more than one mass shooting for every day of 2015.
It also doesn’t mean that Wednesday’s shooting in California, however deadly it becomes, will have much effect on whether Congress lifts that longstanding ban on federally funded gun violence research.
“They control the purse strings. They could change this today, if they wanted to,” Daniel Webster, who directs the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore, told the Post after an October shooting at an Oregon community college killed 10 people.
Webster wasn’t optimistic that change would come anytime soon. But like the doctors who made their plea to lawmakers on Capitol Hill early Wednesday, hours before gunfire rocked another community, he hoped it would come sooner than later.
“It just affects the basic things we care about in public health – the mortality, the life expectancy, morbidity, mental health. It affects all of those things in pretty profound ways,” Webster said of gun violence. “If we had a disease that was killing as many people as our guns in our country, we would devote a lot more resources to make sure we had the best data, the best research to know what is most affected.”