Among Top Killers of Americans, Guns Are the Least Researched

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Quantifying the government’s reluctance to fund science studying guns.

By Francie Diep

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(Photo: ARTS_fox1fire/Flickr)

If something was causing many Americans to die, you might expect the federal government to spend a lot of money studying it. That’s true for heart disease, for example, which kills more than 600,000 Americans a year, and which federal agencies have spent more than $10 billion researching between 2004 and 2015, according to a new study. But one major killer of Americans stands out for the low rate of funding it receives, in proportion to how many it takes: gun violence.

If shootings were studied at the rate of other major causes of death, they would have attracted $1.4 billion in federal grants between 2004 and 2015, according to the study, which was conducted by medical data researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Stanford University. In reality, firearms research got $22 million during that time, or about 6,200 percent less than expected. Among the 30 top killers of Americans, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, firearms violence has the lowest ratio of numbers of scientific papers published to numbers of deaths caused, and the second-lowest ratio of funding to numbers of deaths caused. (Falls has the lowest funding-to-deaths ratio.)

The new numbers offer rough, quantitative evidence for the argument that gun deaths are understudied in the United States, which stymies efforts to prevent them. In 2012, President Barack Obama used an executive order to reverse long-standing restrictions — brought about by Congress and lobbying from the National Rifle Association — on federal money going to research on guns’ effects on public health. But the order seemed to have little effect, as repeatednews reports have found.

Gun research does get some private funding. In California, it also receives state funding. But such efforts can’t match the financial muscle of America’s federal agencies, which — when it comes to issues that don’t have to do with guns — are among the biggest funders of public-health research in the world.

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