HELENA – As the national debate on gun violence intensifies, Montana’s members of Congress say they’d like a thoughtful approach to get to the “root cause” of the problem, and believe it can be done through existing law.
But in the wake of last week’s mass shooting at a Florida high school, some are taking aim at a law they say is preventing any in-depth, scientific research on solutions to gun violence.
It’s known as the Dickey amendment: A 1996 law passed by Congress that bans federal spending for research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Some Democrats in Congress are saying that language should be repealed, so the U.S. Centers for Disease Control or other federal health agencies can conduct rigorous studies on whether proposed solutions would actually work to prevent future gun violence – and, still preserve gun ownership rights.
Yet none of Montana’s congressional delegation said they would support repealing the ban.
Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont. – a vocal supporter of gun rights – says he doesn’t believe the Dickey amendment prevents federal agencies from conducting research on gun violence.
“We must focus on enforcing existing laws to reduce violence, including measures already on the books that prevent dangerous individuals from owning a firearm,” he said in a statement this week.
Many researchers in the field of injury control have said the ban has chilled research into gun violence, and possible solutions, both at the CDC and even at private foundations.
They’ve pointed to the effect of research on other public-health issues, like motor-vehicle deaths and injuries and tobacco, that led to proposals that eventually helped reduce the death toll.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who’s up for re-election this year, said he would “absolutely” be open to the CDC doing research “to figure out some possible solutions to kids getting shot in school.”
But he told MTN News he wasn’t sure about whether he’d support repealing the ban. He also said that the Second Amendment, which guarantees Americans’ right to “keep and bear arms,” is “important to the people of this state and it’s important to the people of this country.”
When it comes to preventing gun violence, Tester said “it’s about finding common-sense solutions that don’t take away law-abiding citizens’ rights to have guns.”
“Keep those guns out of the hands of folks who want to do people harm,” he said. “But I think those kinds of solutions are hard to come by, because they are, they’re just difficult. But if we can start having that debate, I think it’s a positive step.”
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., told MTN News Thursday that the nation “has got to get to the root cause of these problems and find solutions that actually reduce gun violence.”
Daines then noted that the suspect in the Florida shooting, Nikolas Cruz, had been contacted by law enforcement 39 times in one year and had posted threats on YouTube.
“He should not have been allowed to buy a firearm,” Daines said. “That man should not have had a gun.”
Daines said he is supportive of the CDC looking at “additional facts and what’s going on here, as it related to what’s going on, what’s driving these behaviors.” But he stopped short of saying that the research ban should be repealed.