Starting in 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention self-imposed a ban on researching firearms deaths in the United States. The agency had been cowed by the National Rifle Association and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, among others, who accused it of being a fellow traveler of those pushing for gun control.
Fast forward to December 2012. The world was shocked by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 28 people, including 20 first-graders, were shot to death. The following month, President Barack Obama issued a direct order to then Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to lift this prohibition and "conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it."
Since then, the CDC has done little to nothing on this issue. Congress once again has clamped down on dedicated funding for this valuable research. The bureaucratic stalemate continues unabated while a shooter such as Patrick Crusius of Dallas can drive 10 hours to an El Paso Walmart and shoot to death 22 people and injure 25 more.
Cold, hard facts should always be welcome in a debate as serious as this one. No one is saying either side can't have their intractable positions. What we are saying is that without the needed data in hand, we can't have an intelligent discussion on this issue. The CDC is uniquely qualified to do this research, yet it isn't allowed to do so for purely political reasons.
"CDC increases the health security of our nation," reads its mission statement. "As the nation's health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise."
Do those words mean anything at this point? What is so scary about numbers? And what, exactly, are Congress and the gun lobby so afraid of finding?