The White House waved the white flag this week on federal gun control efforts for the remainder of Barack Obama’s presidency, even as 14 state attorneys general called on Congress to fund research on gun violence, despite opposition from gun rights advocates.
Speaking at a forum on preventing gun violence, Vice President Joseph R. Biden urged state and local officials to pursue gun regulations in their own jurisdictions because “we’re probably not going to get much more done in the next nine months” on gun control.
He blamed inaction at the federal level on Congress, saying dysfunction on Capitol Hill has reached unprecedented levels “in modern history, short of the Civil War.”
Pursuing gun regulations at the state and local level, Mr. Biden said, “has a cumulative impact.”
“It’s a long way of saying, ‘Don’t quit on this,’” he said.
President Obama took executive action in January in an effort to expand background checks for certain gun buyers online and at gun shows. He also introduced a federal budget calling for the hiring of more federal agents to enforce gun laws.
The vice president also lashed out at gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association for putting pressure on gun manufacturers and sellers against “smart gun” technology, which the administration is promoting.
“It’s amazing how the NRA and some gun owner organizations have gone ballistic, no pun intended, about the notion we should be looking at safe gun technology,” Mr. Biden said.
But while Mr. Biden was tapping out at the federal level, state officials asked federal lawmakers to remove a provision in their annual appropriations bill that since 1996 has banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using funds for any study “to advocate or promote gun control.”
“Federal restrictions on CDC funding stifle important progress we have made to help mitigate the devastating effects of gun violence on families and communities in Massachusetts and across the country,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who spearheaded the effort. “With this critical tool at our fingertips, we are calling on Congress to take immediate action as millions of lives are affected by this public health crisis every year.”
Gun rights groups support the research limits because they see the “public health” characterization as merely a cover to expand gun control.
“We think the criminal misuse of firearms is a criminal justice issue and not a public health issue,” said Michael Bazinet, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Gun rights supporters argue that current limits do not ban research on gun safety, but researchers say the limits have proved to be a de facto ban on such studies because of a chilling effect in the field.
“This ban has significantly hampered psychological scientists’ ability to systematically assess the risk of assault and other weapons to the public, and to determine the effectiveness of various preventive measures,” the American Psychological Association wrote in 2013 in reaction to Mr. Obama’s commitment to try to restore such funding. “APA supports increased federal funding for research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including attention to violence in media, to jump start this field after so many years of neglect.”
Attorneys general from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, California, New York, Illinois, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island and Vermont signed onto the letter with Ms. Healey.