By Bob Barr
For 23 years, gun control advocates have pressed to have the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dip its beak into the study of gun violence. Thanks to Democratic pressure and Republican acquiescence, they now will have their way. Tucked into the nearly $1.4 trillion spending bill signed by the president on Friday, is $25 million for the CDC and its sister agency, the National Institutes of Health, to study gun violence and safety.
This is not the first foray by CDC into non-disease matters. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, the Center has become a master at the mission creep to which every federal agency aspires. Initially established in 1946 to combat the spread of malaria, the CDC has mushroomed into a sprawling bureaucracy that over the years has spent taxpayer dollars studying all manner of non-disease problems, including workplace hazards and school bullying.
In fact, before 1996 CDC did spend time and money on matters relating to gun violence. That was the year the Congress, tired of the Clinton Administration using the CDC to further its aggressive anti-firearm agenda, restricted the Center’s ability to engage in such politically oriented “research.” Despite efforts by Democrats to rekindle the CDC’s work in this arena, including a major push by President Obama in 2013, Republicans in Congress have held firm and not funded such activity. Until now.
For the past 23 years, gun control advocates have bemoaned that one of the reasons we have not solved the problem of gun violence in America is because the CDC is not a funded player. This perspective, of course, is not borne of any genuine belief on their part that gun crime actually is a “disease.” Rather, the notion that the CDC is essential to identify the root cause of gun violence and discover its “cure,” represents a political strategy premised on identifying and accessing every possible pot of federal money to achieve a policy goal.
Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who formerly headed the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) at the CDC, has long advocated a scorched earth policy when it comes to gun control. In 1994, for example, Rosenberg vowed, “We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like we did with cigarettes … dirty, deadly and banned.” Almost gleefully, he was quoted last week in USA TODAY, proclaiming this latest move returning CDC and NIH to the firearms policy arena, will “unlock a vein of pure gold” for the movement.
Rosenberg’s delight at opening the federal spending spigot for gun policy research at CDC was echoed by John Feinblatt, a long-time associate of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Feinblatt, who heads the gun control nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety that since 2013 has been one of Bloomberg’s signature gun control initiatives, declared the new funding to be an “important victory” for the movement.
In fact, this latest funding decision by the Congress and the president does represent a victory for the gun control movement. It provides a degree of colorable legitimacy to the otherwise absurd claim that gun violence is a “disease” curable by scientific method and medical research; rather than being addressed as the multi-faceted social and law enforcement problem it in fact is.
Moreover, since it is extremely difficult to turn off or even reduce spending for any federal program once it receives a line item appropriation (the 1996 action was a very rare exception), it is virtually certain such spending will continue at higher levels in coming years. And while the 1996 amendment that stopped Clinton’s plan to deploy the CDC in his war on guns remains technically on the books (along with a similar restriction made applicable in 2012 to NIH), this will have little effect moving forward. Those restrictions only prohibit CDC and NIH from engaging directly to “advocate or promote gun control.”
As anyone familiar with the ingenuity of federal bureaucrats with a budget and a politically-driven agenda knows, gun control advocates now will do whatever is necessary to make sure the money keeps rolling in for them to research, study and fund programs the result of which will be control of guns, without actually using the term “gun control.” This is a door Republicans in the Senate and President Trump should not have allowed to be reopened.