More children die from guns than anything else in the United States, but relatively little funding is available to study how to prevent these tragedies.
From 2008 to 2017, about $12 million in federal research awards were granted to study pediatric firearm mortality each year – about $600 per life lost, according to a study published in Health Affairs. Motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of death among children at the time, received about $26,000 of research funding per death, while funding to study pediatric cancer, the third leading cause of death, topped $195,000 per death.
By 2020, firearm deaths in the US had reached record levels and guns had surpassed car crashes to become the leading cause of death among children. More than 4,300 children and teens died from guns in 2020, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – a 27% jump from 2017, and a number that has only continued to rise. But federal dollars haven’t followed proportionately.
Congress has earmarked about $25 million for firearm injury prevention research each year since 2020, split evenly between the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. Even if all of those dollars were spent on studies focused on pediatric deaths from firearm injury, it’d still be less than $6,000 per death.
Decades of stalled progress
When the Parkland school shooting happened in 2018, more than two decades had passed since Congress had dedicated federal funding to research firearm injury prevention. A legislative provision enacted in 1996, known as the Dickey Amendment, specifically prohibits the use of federal funds to advocate or promote gun control, but it had a chilling effect on firearm injury research overall.
In March 2018, a month after Parkland, Congress included a report on the Dickey Amendment in a spending bill, clarifying that it does not prohibit research on the root causes of gun violence. But it wasn’t until 2020 that the budget actually included money specifically for this purpose.
In the nearly quarter century that it took to unwind uncertainties in the interpretation of the provision – a period of time that included Columbine, Sandy Hook and many more deadly shootings – guns killed 789,000 people in the US, including 75,000 children and teens.
After decades of stalled progress, new research shows that the recent bump in federal funding – incommensurate, as it may be – aligns with a rise in all kinds of related work.
From 2020 to 2022, there were about 90% more registered clinical trials and publications related to firearm injury prevention research than there were from 2017 to 2019, according to a research letter published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery. About half were funded and half were unfunded.