The federal Centers for Disease Control quietly is retreating from new research on gun-related injuries, now the second-leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of 10 and 24.
Some researchers believe the change is a response to political pressure. The National Rifle Association repeatedly has urged Congress to kill the CDC division responsible for gun research.
That division, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, has produced uniquely influential studies about the risks of gun ownership.
However, in its latest request for injury research proposals, the CDC hardly mentions firearms.
In stark contrast to previous requests that specifically invited firearms-related research, the latest announcement encourages applicants to focus instead on “social and economic factors that influence assaultive behavior.”
Researchers say it is the first time in the 10-year history of the CDC’s injury-prevention grant program that firearms appear to be excluded explicitly as a topic of inquiry.
Controversy over the CDC’s research on gun injuries has been simmering for years, virtually since a 1985 report by the National Academy of Sciences declared injuries of all types the nation’s No. 1 public-health problem.
In response, the CDC renewed its research into car crashes, drownings, falls, fires, poisonings, domestic violence - and gun injuries, which are expected to surpass motor-vehicle accidents as the nation’s leading cause of fatal injuries by 2001.
CDC studies have been particularly influential on the risks associated with gun ownership, producing widely cited work showing that a gun in the home nearly triples the risk of the killing of a family member and increases the risk of suicide fivefold.
But that work has aroused the ire of pro-gun activists, who accuse the CDC and the public health community in general - of displaying an “overt anti-firearms bias.”