In an exclusive interview with CNN, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky announced a restart to the agency’s discontinued research program on gun violence, an issue some Democratic lawmakers have characterized as an “epidemic.”
To quell the apprehensions of law-abiding firearm owners, she insisted her initiative would not focus on cracking down on gun owners and their Second Amendment right, although she left ambiguous the program’s scope.
“Generally the word ‘gun,’ for those who are worried about research in this area, is followed by the word ‘control.’ And that’s not what I want to do here. I’m not here about gun control. I’m here about preventing gun violence and gun death,” she said.
Departing somewhat from the progressive tendency to demonize the National Rifle Association (NRA) —which represents millions of gun owners — as being complicit in mass shootings, Walensky said she’s extending an olive branch to these Americans and involving them in the CDC program.
“Come to the table. Join us in the conversation…I want you to teach me what you’ve done to make your gun safe. And then I want you to teach everybody else,” she added.
In the interview, CNN cited a 2015 study which found that an estimated 4.6 million children lived with a loaded and unlocked firearm. Studying one case group in her project, the CDC director visited a Vermont resident’s gun range, where he instructs children how to safely use and store a firearm. Walensky purports to want to apply their protocols to communities nationwide.
The CDC is also distributing posters to gun shops advising gun owners about how they can identify people in crisis to stop gun suicides.
“Every day we turn on the news and there are more young people dying. I swore to the president and to this country that I would protect your health. This is clearly one of those issues that is harming America’s health,” she said. “Something has to be done about this. 40,000 firearm related deaths a year. 120,000 serious firearm-related injuries per year.”
The CDC was established for the purpose of combatting global illnesses and pathogenic threats in the country. Whether its jurisdiction extends to constitutional and policy issues, such as the right to bear arms and gun control, is the subject of fierce debate.
In the 1990s, the NRA successfully lobbied Congress to cut most of the CDC funding for gun violence research.
Walensky’s decision signals an expansion of the agency’s mission and potentially of its powers to address issues only tangentially related to public health. A CDC eviction moratorium — ostensibly installed to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — was struck down by the Supreme Court on Thursday.