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Testing Tammy Baldwin claim on gun deaths, CDC research ban
While Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is not up for re-election until 2018, she’s still engaging in at least one of the biggest issues in the 2016 campaign.
In January, she co-sponsored legislation to appropriate $10 million to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the next five years for firearm research.
To promote her legislation, Baldwin tweeted this on Jan. 24, 2015, citing limits on what the CDC can do:
"Over 32,000 people die from #GunViolence every year. Yet, @CDCgov is banned from researching ways to prevent this."
We wondered if Baldwin was right.
Gun violence numbers
As backup for the statistic that 32,000 people die from gun violence every year, Baldwin’s team pointed to the CDC’s National Vital Statistics database. It’s the most comprehensive source for national statistics as it is a census, pulling information from death certificates.
The report shows that in 2013, the latest year for which data is available, there were 33,636 gun-related deaths. Beyond that, from 2009-2013, an average of 32,100 people died each year from gun-related injuries. So Baldwin is on target with the number.
About one third of gun-related deaths are homicides, with suicides counting for about two thirds of deaths.
PolitiFact Texas examined a similar claim from presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton in October 2015: "We lose an average of 90 Americans every day because of guns."
This claim was backed up by taking the number of firearm deaths tallied by the CDC in 2013 and averaging it out over a year. Clinton hit the number, but didn’t mention that most of those deaths are suicides, not homicides. Her claim was rated Mostly True.
In the second part of her claim, Baldwin said the CDC is "banned from researching ways to prevent" gun violence. Her tweet linked to a news release that pointed to a 1996 piece of legislation as evidence.
The news release said, in part: "Currently, a Republican appropriations rider from 1996 prohibits funding for such critical research at the CDC, even though the original rider’s author, former Republican Jay Dickey, has since announced his opposition to it noting that the rider’s intention was to prevent the CDC from lobbying for gun control, not from conducting gun-violence research."
This 1996 rider is commonly called the Dickey Amendment.
In the early 1990s, the New England Journal of Medicine published research that concluded gun ownership, independent of other factors, increased the risk for a homicide in the home. The study was funded by the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
In the wake of the research, and subsequent media attention, the National Rifle Association campaigned for the elimination of the injury prevention center.
While the center survived, new language in the 1996 budget bill said that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control." In some ways the statement was redundant, as general funding cannot be used for advocacy.
Congress also took from the CDC’s budget $2.6 million -- the exact amount invested in firearm injury research the previous year.
While the language against advocating and promoting gun control did not explicitly ban the CDC from researching gun violence, the CDC stopped the work anyway.
Linda Degutis, the former director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said the action by Congress sent a strong message to the CDC.
"Even though that language doesn’t say research is prohibited," Degutis said, "everyone who was making decisions interpreted it to mean that you could not do any research on gun violence."
The language, and lack of funding, has carried on in spending bills and even been expanded to the National Institute of Health, another agency in the Department of Health and Human Services.
"It is the equivalent of a ban," said David Hemenway, director of the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University. "It’s a touch more nuanced than a ban, but there’s basically no real difference in terms of research."
In the wake of mass shootings in 2013, President Barack Obama requested the CDC be granted new funding to study gun violence. Congress did not appropriate the funds.
Baldwin said "over 32,000 people die from #GunViolence every year. Yet, @CDCgov is banned from researching ways to prevent this."
The most comprehensive data available supports the first part of the claim, that more than 32,000 people die from gun violence every year.
On the research ban, while the language from the Dickey Amendment does not explicitly ban the agency from conducting research, its interpretation effectively banned the practice.
For a statement that is accurate but needs clarification or additional information, we rate Baldwin’s claim Mostly True.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National vital statistics report, Feb. 16, 2016.
PolitiFact Texas, Hillary Clinton says U.S. loses 90 people a day to guns, Oct. 21, 2015.
Phone interview with David Hemingway, director, Harvard Injury Control Research Center, March 1, 2016.
New York Times, When gun violence felt like a disease, a city in Delaware turned to the C.D.C., Dec. 24, 2015.
CNN, What happened to the CDC’s courage on guns?, Dec. 14, 2015.
Phone interview with Ted Alcorn, research director, Everytown for Gun Safety.
Phone interview with Linda Degutis, executive director, Defense Health Horizons, Henry Jackson Foundation.
Tweet, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Jan. 24, 2016.
The Atlantic, The missing data on gun violence, Jan. 21, 2016.
News release, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin calls for funding of gun violence research agenda, Jan. 21, 2016.
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Testing Tammy Baldwin claim on gun deaths, CDC research ban
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