Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, a senior member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, said the FY 2015 budget won’t include the $10 million to fund scientific research into gun violence prevention that President Barack Obama proposed, delivering yet another blow to the administration’s efforts to pass new gun control laws.
Kingston’s admission to ProPublica on Monday highlights the power of America’s gun lobby and underscores the difficulty that American researchers have acquiring federal funds to determine scientifically what works best to curb firearm injuries.
In the wake of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Obama called for an end to the decades-long freeze on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s gun violence research. Obama then directed the center to conduct its investigation, and he asked Congress to allocate $10 million to the agency for that purpose. However, the CDC’s FY 2014 budget shows that exactly $0 was appropriated for to the study.
“The President’s request to fund propaganda for his gun-grabbing initiatives though [sic] the CDC will not be included in the FY2015 appropriations bill,” Kingston said. Kingston’s latest comment marks a retreat from the common ground he initially sought following school shooting, which left 20 children and six staff members at the Connecticut school dead almost two years ago.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the Georgia congressman supported a review of the nation’s gun laws, saying lawmakers should “put more gun control on the table.” However, he cautioned that the mental health aspect of the debate on gun laws should not be overlooked.
“I think that we can’t just stop at guns,” he said.
Kingston, who served 11 terms in the House, is locked in a competitive Republican primary to win the nomination to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Polls are showing a tight race ahead of the May 20 primary, according to the Associated Press, and the eventual GOP nominee will likely compete with Democratic front-runner Michelle Nunn in the general election. Kingston has not responded to a request for comment from International Business Times.
Advocates for stricter gun laws suspect that Kingston is the same position that numerous other Republicans face in their primary elections, so he's likely feeling pressure to shift further to the right on policy issues than he would if he were not competing to win the primary.
Mark Glaze, executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, a new gun violence prevention group funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said Kingston’s reaction to the Connecticut shooting was an “appropriate response,” even though Kingston has since backed away from that position somewhat. Bloomberg recently launched Everytown with a $50 million personal donation to drum up grassroots support to take on the NRA and elect lawmakers who support gun control laws.
“I think he is getting right with the NRA and getting right with conservatives,” Glaze said, “but it’s always a disappointment to see members of Congress who surely know better and know that the actions they are taking may cost people their lives, and they are doing it solely for their political self-interest.”
Since its inception in 1871, the National Rifle Association, or the NRA, flexes huge political muscle in support of gun rights laws. It spends millions in each election to support lawmakers who promise to fight for Second Amendment rights and oust those who support gun control legislation. The nonprofit organization, which has powerful backing, lobbies Congress to pass laws that favor gun rights and gun ownership. Most recently, the NRA's influence on many politicians caused several gun control measures, including a bipartisan bill calling for stricter background checks, to fail in Congress despite support from two-thirds of Americans. The NRA also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The New England Journal of Medicine published an article in 1993 that highlighted the findings of CDC-funded research that concluded that rather than offering their owners protection, keeping guns in the home is strongly linked to an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or person close to the gun owner. The NRA responded with a campaign to eliminate the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which was responsible for the research. In 1996, then-Congressman Jay Dickey, R-Ark., a lifetime member of the NRA, successfully passed an amendment to cut the $2.6 million that the CDC had spent on the research the previous year. There was an additional requirement that “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Dickey coauthored an article for the Washington Post in July 2012 in which he strongly supported scientific research into preventing firearm injuries, as firearms killed an average of 32,000 people annually between 1980 and 2006. Dickey said in the article that these injuries will continue to claim too many lives if politicians and everyday Americans don’t start asking “the hard questions.”
“The same evidence-based approach that is saving millions of lives from motor-vehicle crashes, as well as from smoking, cancer and HIV/AIDS, can help reduce the toll of deaths and injuries from gun violence,” he said. “Most politicians fear talking about guns almost as much as they would being confronted by one, but these fears are senseless. We must learn what we can do to save lives. It is like the answer to the question, 'When is the best time to plant a tree?' The best time to start was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now.”
That sentiment is echoed by Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director at the American Public Health Association. His group was among dozens that sent a cosigned letter to the leaders and ranking members of the House Appropriations Committee last July, urging support for Obama’s proposal. Benjamin told International Business Times on Tuesday that he believes Kingston’s initial response to the tragedy was the right one.
“There are many, many dangerous things in the world, including guns, and we don’t ban them,” he said. “We try to do that based on science and knowledge, not based on personal opinion. We made cars safer. We made the roads safer. We made people safer in their cars. There’s no reason why we can’t do the same thing for firearms. Make firearms safer. Make people safer with their firearms and make the environment safer around firearms.”
“Research on gun violence prevention will equip Americans with information about this important public health issue,” Courtney Lenard, a CDC spokeswoman, recently said.