Medical Researchers Raise the Red Flag on Gun Violence Research Funding

By Laurie Breen


In a JAMA Research Letter likely intended to draw political attention, authors David E. Stark and Nigam H. Shah compared data on gun violence with other leading causes of death and questioned whether adequate funding was being given to research on gun violence, considering the high rates of death from gun violence in the U.S.




Although research into gun violence is not directly banned, a congressional appropriations bill from 1996 stated that no funding allocated for injury prevention or control at the CDC “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Supporters argued that a gun is not a disease and therefore falls outside the realm of the CDC, ignoring the fact that the CDC already has an Injury Prevention & Control Center. The authors argue that this ban has had a knock-on effect for all funding of gun violence research, as government agencies and institutes seeking funding will steer clear of the subject, from fear of running afoul of the appropriations ban and risking the loss of funding.



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The letter’s authors reviewed CDC mortality statistics from 2004 – 2014. They identified the top 30 causes of death and allocated each to a Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) term. Then, for each MeSH term, the authors queried the number of Medline publications from 2004-2015 and also turned to the Federal RePORTER database to look at funding amounts awarded to specific projects with the various MeSH terms.


After analysis, the authors found that while gun violence killed about as many people as sepsis, the funding for gun violence was much, much less at about 0.7% of that given to studying sepsis. As would be expected, the publication rate for gun violence, with so little funding, was very small as well, at 4% of what was published on sepsis. When considering mortality rates, gun violence was the least-researched cause of death. The authors have made their data publicly available on GitHub for further study and replication.


The authors did acknowledge that although both sepsis and gun violence had similar mortality rates, comparing disease research to injury research is not exactly apples to apples, as injury research tends to be under-supported across the board. However, more research could certainly result in more and better interventions.


For example, previous studies have shown links between gun laws and lower suicide rates.



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Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.