US President Barack Obama waded directly into scientific politics yesterday when he announced a series of measures addressing gun violence in the wake of the 14 December shooting in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead — 20 of them children.
Of the 23 actions he took under presidential authority on 16 January, Obama chose to highlight just a few in remarks he delivered at the White House. One of them was a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public-health service agencies to “conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it”.
An accompanying White House document added:
The CDC will start immediately by assessing existing strategies for preventing gun violence and identifying the most pressing research questions, with the greatest potential public health impact. And the Administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.
The presidential move is a direct challenge to gun-rights proponents in Congress, who since 1996 have used prohibitions written into funding bills to muzzle CDC research on gun violence, as Nature noted in an August 2012 editorial (see ‘Who calls the shots?’).
Congress also last year began forbidding the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to spend any money, “in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.”
The White House document said that the administration had conducted a legal analysis of Congress’s prohibitions and has concluded that the research ordered by Obama yesterday “is not prohibited by any appropriations language.”
It remains to be seen whether Congress will agree.