President Obama is looking at issuing 19 executive actions on gun control, and while gun enthusiasts fear a gun ban that can't happen by executive order, there is one proposal that should make the gun lobby plenty nervous: allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence. The possibilities to emerge from Vice President Joe Biden's gun commission, as The New York Times catalogs them, appear to mostly involve steps like more background checks on gun buyers or making it easier for federal agencies to share mental health and gun records. They are mostly small ways that Obama can, without needing Congressional approval, keep bad guys from getting guns. But there's one very big, and potentially momentous measure that Obama can achieve with an executive order: by allowing the CDC to conduct research on guns, we'd know more about what happens when good guys have guns.
Despite the fears of some genuine gun nuts threatening civil war, Obama can't issue a gun-grabbing executive order. An assault weapons ban would have to go through Congress. Biden's proposals will mostly involve better enforcement of existing laws, which are supposed to keep legal guns out of the hands of criminals. Which is popular! No one wants bad guys to have guns. Bad guys do bad things with guns.
But what the gun lobby wants is more good guys -- normal average citizens like teachers and movie theater patrons -- to have more guns. That is why it has been fighting since the mid-1990s to block any science that might show the costs of lots of good guys having lots of guns might outweigh the benefits.
In 1996, some members of Congress tried to completely defund the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which was doing gun research, Live Science explains. Instead, lawmakers stripped $2.6 million from the CDC's budget -- the exact amount it had spent on gun injury research the year before. Congress forbade research that might "advocate or promote gun control." In 2003, Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt forbid the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from giving researchers data about guns used in crime. Last year, the National Institutes of Health was blocked from funding gun research. The efforts have had impressive results. According to a letter to Biden signed by 100 researchers, The NIH has funded just three studies on gun injuries in the last 40 years. Hey, that's three whole studies, right? Hardly censorship! Well, the researchers point out that guns have killed 4 million people since 1973, while four infections diseases have killed just 2,000 -- and the NIH has funded almost 500 studies on them. The letter protests that "legislative language has the effect of discouraging the funding of well-crafted scientific studies."