Federal Research Funding on Gun Violence

Without adequate research, little can be done to reduce gun violence through a holistic public health approach.

Gun violence is the leading cause of death among children and teens and it must be treated as such. Just like the research around motor vehicle accidents, cancer, and heart disease, reliable data and analysis are vital in the creation, implementation, and education of policies, campaigns, and strategies to reduce harm.

The Legacy of the Dickey Amendment

Between FY 1997 and FY 2019, federal funding for research on firearm related harms was effectively outlawed by the Dickey Amendment. The Amendment stalled progress in the field of firearm-related harm research by more than twenty years, leaving the epidemic to grow significantly without the ability to identify risk factors, understand the impact of policies, and evaluate community-based solutions to reduce harm.

Gun violence kills over 42,000 people each year. For years, gun violence has been among the leading causes of death in the U.S., but has long been treated differently than the other leading causes of death. Between 2004 and 2015, gun violence was the least researched and second least funded, behind falls, of the 30 leading causes of death in this country.

Since 2020, Congress has allocated


million of federal funding annually for researching firearm-related harms.

In 2019, Congress passed the FY 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill that would allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to fund research on gun violence. In doing so, Congress opened the door for the field of firearm research to begin to develop for the first time in twenty years.

This funding came after Congress in the FY 2019 appropriations bill clarified the rule is only applicable to gun control advocacy specifically and does not prevent the federal government from funding gun violence research. This clarification has allowed academics, research institutions, and government agencies to better understand the conditions that facilitate such high rates of gun violence in this country.

The power of this research was put on full display in 2023 at the second annual National Conference for the Prevention of Firearm-Related Harms in Chicago, where about 700 attendees across academic fields and careers met to discuss the fast development of firearm violence research. With 333 scientific presentations, 210 unique institutions, and 20 different academic disciplines, the conference showcased the expansive growth of research in the field since the freeze on federal funding thawed after more than two decades.

Today, gun violence is defined as a “public health problem” by the CDC, yet large gaps exist in the basic understanding of how to prevent firearm-related injuries.

Gun violence continues to receive funding at a rate far lower than other leading causes of death in the U.S. In 2020, the National Institutes for Health (NIH) spent just $311 on funding for gun violence research for each firearm death that year. Conversely, the NIH spent $3,639 on funding for heart disease research and $2,064 on funding for motor vehicle accident research per person killed that year.

Federally funded research on gun violence has just begun to create a foundation for understanding gun violence as a public health crisis.

Research around firearm-related harms has grown exponentially since Congress allocated federal funding to conduct comprehensive research to better understand the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. in FY 2020. Yet, the research is twenty years behind other research categories in the public health space.


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