NIH likely to scrap firearms research fund

The National Institutes of Health is set to shelve a funding programme on research into gun violence and how to prevent it. 

The programme, which was ordered by then-president Barack Obama after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, has funded 22 projects for $18 million over the past three years, according to a report in Science magazine on 13 September.

NIH stopped accepting proposals in January with the last awards underway. The agency said the programme is “still under consideration”, but neglected to mention a timeline for a decision.

Gun violence is a heated debate in the United States revolving around the second amendment to its constitution, which gives an individual the right to bear arms. Government agencies are prohibited by Congress “to advocate or promote gun control”. However, Obama reasoned that research was not activism and was able to get NIH to sponsor gun studies.

The US has higher levels of violent deaths, particularly homicide, compared with other developed nations. In 2015, more than 36,000 people died from gunshot wounds and 23 children are shot each day, according to the Centres for disease Control and Prevention, a government research funding agency.

Daniel Webster, director of the centre for gun policy and research at John Hopkins University said that the move to stop funding for gun research was not surprising. The influential National Rifle Association has aligned itself with president Donald Trump, and the Republican Party that controls both branches of Congress, Webster said.

“The gun lobby has always opposed scientific inquiry on topics that are relevant to their political agenda and tend to make their points on ideological grounds,” Webster added. “Although the allocation of NIH funds to gun violence research has been modest, the decision to discontinue is a setback.”

Although a final announcement to eliminate the programme has not yet been made, Jeffrey Simon, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that the Countering Violent Extremism programme, which Obama launched in 2011 to educate and provide resources to communities against violent extremist attacks, is likely to be discontinued in 2018.

However, Simon is hopeful that the NIH gun research cuts will provoke a backlash, which could lead some of the funding being restored.

“It is too salient an issue for researchers and others to ignore,” said Simon. “Also there are a lot of independent studies funded by foundations not tied to government regarding the topic of gun violence that can be expected to continue.”

Story published on Research Europe, September 21 2017

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