HHS chief asked for next steps on CDC gun violence research

HHS Secretary Alex Azar recently backed CDC gun violence prevention research during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. Now, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., is asking how lawmakers can help support the issue.

In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Feb. 15 — just one day removed from the shooting tragedy at a Florida high school that left 17 dead and others injured — Mr. Azar addressed the 1996 Dickey Amendment, an annual appropriations rider originally sponsored by the late Jay Dickey, R-Ark. The rider stipulates the CDC may not use funding to advocate or promote gun control.

"My understanding is that the rider does not in any way impede our ability to conduct our research mission," said Mr. Azar. "We're in the science business and the evidence-generating business, and so I will have our agency certainly working in this field, as they do across the broad spectrum of disease control and prevention. ... We believe we've got a very important mission with our work with serious mental illness as well as our ability to do research on the causes of violence and the causes behind tragedies like this."

In letter addressed to Mr. Azar dated Feb. 22, Mr. Markey asked the HHS secretary to provide a wide range of information by March 15, including information on a projected timeline for gun violence prevention research, the number CDC staff that might be dedicated to the research efforts, what CDC funds will be used to support the research, and whether Congress should eliminate the Dickey rider from future appropriations legislation.

"I applaud your commitment that the Dickey rider will no longer be permitted to stand in the way of CDC gun violence prevention research," Mr. Markey wrote in his letter to Mr. Azar. "As a consequence of the rider, policymakers, healthcare practitioners, researchers, and others have lacked comprehensive, scientific information about the causes and characteristics of gun violence or the best strategies to prevent it. The tragedy in Parkland, Fla., once again reminds us that it is long past time we change that."


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