Outtake: A brief commentary on the Dickey Amendment

The Dickey Amendment represents an insidious and instructive historical event, illustrating again, that within a technologically advanced society, critical thinking can been squelched in favor of political agenda. In the "age of conspiracy" and smart money, the applications of a critical mindset, and encouraging our ability to question motivation and apply reason, becomes more important than ever. Tragically, hidden agenda must be considered in testing the validity of information received; and this included now, to an extent, scientific data and judicial proceeding. Bias and cultural value modulate modern “science.”

Subjectively, having been educated as a physician in Central Brooklyn, gun violence is and has been, an affliction with considerable impact on mortality, a medical condition which should not be approached differently than organic disease by epidemiologists. In Brooklyn, I was also taught that the basis for Medicine, as practiced in the United States, was “evidence-based.” The rational of medical research is partly to gather data which might lead to innovation and awareness ultimately preventing unnecessary death. Vaccination might be considered analogous.

In 1996, Representative Jay Dickey, junior Republican from Arkansas, inserted a rider into the US federal government omnibus spending bill. The Dickey Amendment mandated: “. . . 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."

Within that same year’s spending bill, the United States Congress earmarked exactly what had been allocated to the CDC during the prior cycle for firearm research. They took that 2.6 million dollars and designated it for traumatic brain injury research. In other words, they cut the CDC budget by exactly that amount dedicated to firearm injury research. Research was not forbidden but scientists interpreted it as such; that federally funded research was halted and publication effectively “prohibited” is not only incredible, it screams murder.

Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, stated: "All the debate for several decades now has been carried out on the basis of opinion and ideology and assertion and political stance, rather than the evidence."

In Octorber of 2015, 110 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter petitioning Congress to reject Dickey’s amendment. They were unsuccessful. In the meantime, Dickey himself recently remarked to NPR’s Steve Inskeep:

"It wasn't necessary that all research stop. It just couldn't be the collection of data so that they can advocate gun control. That's all we were talking about. But for some reason, it just stopped altogether."

That Dickey’s opinion has changed, and that he has carried out his own dialectic in face of political pressure (I'm assuming) is commendable:

“It is my position that somehow or someway we should slowly but methodically fund such research until a solution is reached. Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution.”

In recent years, one does not infrequently hear the expression: “How many mass shootings do we need to have?” That such an amendment had been superimposed on science, and that scientists acquiesced, should be considered an embarrassment. It is not coincidence, therefore, that in the wake of the Orlando shooting, at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Medical Association's (AMA) House of Delegates, the AMA called gun violence in the United States a "public health crisis" and asked Congress to fund research into the problem. This occurred twenty years after the Dickey amendment.