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Spending deal ends two-decade freeze on gun safety research

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 2: Gun safety advocates rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court before during oral arguments in the Second Amendment case NY State Rifle & Pistol v. City of New York, NY on December 2, 2019 in Washington, DC. Several gun owners and the NRA's New York affiliate challenged New York City laws concerning handgun ownership and and they contend the city's gun license laws are overly restrictive and potentially unconstitutional. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan deal on a government spending bill would for the first time in two decades provide money for federal research on gun safety. A law adopted in the 1990s has effectively blocked such research and prohibits federal agencies from engaging in advocacy on gun-related issues.

The spending bill, set for a House vote as soon as Tuesday, would provide $25 million for gun violence research, divided evenly between the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Nearly seven years to the day after we lost 20 beautiful children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary” in Newtown, Connecticut, “we are finally making progress in Congress to reduce gun violence,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chairwoman of the labor and health subcommittee of the House Appropriations panel.

“The epidemic of gun violence is a public health emergency. Yet, for more than two decades, Congress has failed to provide any meaningful reforms,” DeLauro said in a statement.

The new funding for NIH and CDC “will help us better understand the correlation between domestic violence and gun violence, how Americans can more safely store guns and how we can intervene to reduce suicide by firearms,” DeLauro said.

The agreement follows approval of language last year clarifying that the so-called Dickey Amendment does not prohibit federal spending on gun research, as had been widely argued by gun-rights supporters. The 1996 law, named after former Republican Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas, has been the focus of a political fight for more than two decades, and the CDC largely abandoned gun research in the wake of its passage.

Dickey, who died in 2017, argued in recent years that research on gun violence was needed.

Gun control supporters hailed the agreement on gun-research funding as an important breakthrough.

The announcement “is a huge victory in our nation’s commitment to addressing and solving the gun violence epidemic,” said Christian Heyne, vice president of the Brady gun safety group.

“Students graduating from college this spring have never lived in a United States where the federal government studied this issue. That ends today,” Heyne said. The National Rifle Association pushed for the 1996 Dickey law but maintains it does not oppose gun research. Instead, the group says it opposes research that is biased, flimsy or aimed at advocacy.

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