When President Barack Obama directed the Centers for Disease Control to take up studies on gun violence, it represented an about face for the agency, but few expected this problem: there aren’t enough researchers in the whole country who specialize in the topic to even get new studies off the ground.
That’s according to Dr. Garen Wintemute, a gun researcher at the University of California Davis, who spoke to ABC’s “20/20” this week. Wintemute said the problem is so severe, there’s fewer than 15 people nation-wide applying scientific discipline to the study of gun violence.
The shortage came about starting in 1997, when Congress, reacting to National Rifle Association lobbyists, directed the CDC to stop studying gun violence altogether. That language was updated six years later to tighten the ban, and then again in 2012, when Republicans passed language that extends the ban to all agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services.
As a result, virtually everyone who specialized in studying gun violence went into other fields, Wintemute said. “I don’t think there’s anyone at the CDC who has done significant work in this area in a decade,” he added.
Studies conducted by the CDC prior to 1997 found that having a firearm in one’s home increased the chance of unexpectedly being killed by gunfire by about 300 percent. The risk of suicides shot up even higher, rising by roughly 500 percent.