TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Troy Singleton that would require the University Behavioral Health Care at Rutgers University and the School of Criminal Justice of Rutgers to undertake a comprehensive study to research firearms-related violence cleared the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee today.
Despite the inordinate number of deaths attributable to firearms violence, very little scientific research has been performed during the past two decades to identify effective ways of reducing firearms violence. For over two decades the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been prohibited from researching anything related to promoting gun safety. This is due to the “Dickey Amendment,” which was introduced in the 1996 federal budget by the Congressman with the same name, in which the CDC is restricted from using funds to research studies that may be used to advocate or promote gun safety. This has not only hurt the CDC’s ability to research gun violence, but also its ability to study traumatic brain injuries due to the loss of related funding.
“For too long, the CDC has been banned from researching gun violence as a public health issue,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Yet, 89 people die every day across our nation due to firearms. If this isn’t a public health issue – or even a public health emergency – then I don’t know what is. If the federal government won’t allow this research to occur, then we will take the matter into our own hands. This bill will give the State of New Jersey, via Rutgers, the power it needs to provide us with the science-based evidence that gun violence prevention programs need so urgently.”
The study would examine the nature of firearms violence, including individual and societal determinants of risk for involvement in firearms violence, whether as a victim or a perpetrator; the individual, community, and societal consequences of firearms violence; and the prevention and treatment of firearms violence at the individual, community, and societal levels.
S-63 would appropriate $400,000 from the General Fund to UBHC and the School of Criminal Justice to conduct a firearms violence study. The university would be authorized to seek additional federal, State, and private funds to conduct this research.
The study would utilize a variety of research methods with a mission to provide the scientific evidence on which sound firearms violence prevention policies and programs can be based. The research would extend to firearms violence as a form of terrorism.
The bill would require UBHC and the School of Criminal Justice to work with policymakers in the Legislature and State agencies in performing the study and to recruit and provide specialized training opportunities for researchers, including experienced investigators in related fields who work on firearms violence, investigators who have completed their education, postdoctoral scholars, doctoral students, and undergraduates.
Although the CDC is restricted from researching anything that relates to promoting gun safety, it nonetheless, keeps track of firearms-related violence; this also includes in specific states. The CDC reported that in 2016, there were 476 total firearms-related deaths in New Jersey; and from 2001-2016, 7,088 people died from firearms-related violence in New Jersey. These numbers are only a fraction of the deaths when compared to the country as a whole. According to the CDC, 37,863 people died from firearms-related violence in the United States in 2016; and from 2001-2016, 501,109 people died from firearms-related violence in the United States.
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, former President Obama released his national plan to prevent firearm-related violence by declaring it a public health crisis. In the face of this public health crisis, scientists have urged Congress to facilitate research on firearms violence and prevention. In 2015, over 2,000 doctors in all 50 states and the District of Columbia signed a petition urging Congress to remove barriers to research that have existed for nearly 20 years, and provide annual funding to identify causes of and ways to prevent firearms violence.
Since 2001, no funding for the CDC has been expended for comprehensive studies aimed at reducing harm from firearms. According to Mother Jones, there have been 65 mass shootings totaling 554 deaths in the United States since 2001.
The bill was approved by the committee with a vote of 4-1, and next heads to the Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.