The CDC Isn’t About Science — It’s About Gun Control

posted on March 5, 2023
Rochelle Walensky
Graeme Sloan/SIPA USA

Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN that the supposed public-health agency would be increasing its focus on violence committed with firearms.

In August 2021, Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN that the supposed public-health agency would be increasing its focus on violence committed with firearms. Referencing the agency’s approach to the issue, Walensky said, “it’s pedal-to-the-metal time.” In an attempt to allay legitimate concerns about the agency’s new emphasis on guns, the director claimed, “I’m not here about gun control.”


As it turns out, the CDC is “about gun control.”

According to emails obtained by internet firearm publication The Reload, from 2021-2022, the CDC collaborated with gun-control advocates to suppress scientific research demonstrating the widespread use of firearms for self-defense.

In early 1993, Florida State University professors of criminology Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz sought to measure the prevalence of defensive-gun uses (DGUs). The pair designed the National Self-Defense Survey and polled Americans by telephone on whether they had used a gun for self-defense.

The researchers published their results in an article titled “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun,” which appeared in the Fall 1995 edition of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. The key finding was that the survey data indicated “each year in the U.S. there are about 2.2 to 2.5 million DGUs of all types by civilians against humans.”

These results created a serious problem for gun-control advocates and their allies in the social “sciences.” Most firearm-related social “science” research focuses on the purported costs of widespread gun ownership and makes little attempt to examine the benefits. Kleck and Gertz’s research showed that there are significant benefits to civilian gun ownership. This scrambled gun-control advocates’ lazy and one-sided cost-benefit calculation, and provided law-abiding gun owners with a powerful talking point in the fight to secure their rights.

In early 2022, reference to the 2.5 million DGUs appeared on CDC’s website in a document titled “Fast Facts: Firearm Violence Prevention,” as an answer to the questions “What is defensive gun use? How often does it occur?” However, in May 2022, estimates of the prevalence of DGUs were removed from the fact sheet.

According to The Reload, this suppression of science occurred following a lobbying effort by gun-control advocates. The Reload article explained, “The lobbying campaign spanned months and culminated with a private meeting between CDC officials and three advocates last summer.” Illustrating the level of influence the anti-gun activists were able to exert, the piece noted, “Introductions from the White House and Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D.-Ill.) office helped the advocates reach top officials at the agency … .”

Focusing their censorship effort on the DGU research, a Sept. 16, 2021, email from Mark Bryant, the executive director of the Gun Violence Archive, to CDC officials stated, “[T]hat 2.5 Million number needs to be killed, buried, dug up, killed again and buried again.” Bryant also whined that the Kleck-Gertz study “remains canon by gun rights folks and their supporting politicians and is used as a blunt instrument against gun safety regulations every time there is a state or federal level hearing.”

In a Dec. 10, 2021, email referencing a Sept. 15, 2021, meeting with gun-control advocates, a CDC official noted that the agency would “make some edits to the [fact sheet] content” to address the advocates’ concerns.

And this isn’t the first time CDC has buried scientific research demonstrating the widespread use of firearms for self-defense.

Following Kleck and Gertz’s landmark study, from 1996 to 1998, CDC used its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to survey Americans about DGUs. Specifically, the CDC survey asked respondents, “During the last 12 months, have you confronted another person with a firearm, even if you did not fire it, to protect yourself, your property, or someone else?”

Despite conducting this interesting research, the agency didn’t report on their findings at the time. The CDC survey data finally came to light in 2018.

Analyzing the CDC survey along with his own research, Kleck found that the CDC data indicated that there are likely more than 1 million DGUs per year. In a September 2020 paper titled “What Do CDC’s Surveys Say About the Prevalence of Defensive Gun Use?,” Kleck explained, “Even when CDC, an organization perceived by some to be strongly ‘anti-gun,’ devised and conducted the surveys, their survey results implied huge estimates of defensive gun uses—over a million per year, far more than the number of violent crimes in which offenders used guns.”

Adding further weight to the Kleck-Gertz study and CDC’s BRFSS findings of widespread defensive gun use, a 2021 survey conducted by William English, a Georgetown University political economist, placed the number of DGUs somewhere in between what the Kleck and CDC surveys indicated. In a research paper summarizing his findings, English noted, “The survey further finds that approximately a third of gun owners (31.1%) have used a firearm to defend themselves or their property.” The economist went on to explain that the survey “estimates that guns are used defensively by firearms owners in approximately 1.67 million incidents per year.”

Addressing the CDC’s suppression of scientific research at the behest of gun-control advocates, Kleck told The Reload, “CDC is just aligning itself with the gun-control advocacy groups… . It’s just saying: ‘we are their tool, and we will do their bidding.’ And that’s not what a government agency should do.” Kleck also called the agency’s actions “blatant censorship.”

Explaining how CDC’s suppression of DGU data hurts public understanding of the firearms issue, Kleck added, “You can’t understand any significant aspects of the gun-control debate once you eliminate defensive gun use… . It becomes inexplicable why so many Americans oppose otherwise perfectly reasonable gun-control measurements. It’s because they think it’s going to lead to prohibition, and they won’t have a gun for self-defense.”

Walensky may have branded her August 2021 announcement as some sort of shift in agency policy, but the truth is that the CDC has been a fundamentally anti-gun institution for decades. Starting as early as the mid-1980s, CDC officials began to express an interest in gun control to the press. In 1989, the Journal of the American Medical Association quoted a CDC official as stating, “We’re going to systematically build a case that owning firearms causes deaths. We’re doing the most we can do, given the political realities.”

CDC is just [...] saying: ‘we are their tool, and we will do their bidding.’ —Gary Kleck

The agency’s campaign against gun ownership accelerated in the 1990s, with CDC officials participating in several gun-control conferences alongside anti-gun activists. In 1994, CDC National Center for Injury Prevention Director Mark Rosenberg told The Washington Post of his intent to transform public perception of firearms in the same manner as had been done with cigarettes, by making guns “dirty, deadly—and banned.” In 1995, a CDC-funded newsletter engaged in overt gun-control advocacy by directing readers to “make your support for federal, state, and local gun laws known to your representatives.”

All of this taxpayer-funded anti-gun political advocacy prompted Congress to act. In 1996, working with NRA-ILA, lawmakers added an appropriations rider to federal legislation making clear that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

The irony of CDC’s recent behavior will not be lost on astute gun-rights supporters. Gun-control advocates have spent the better part of the last three decades making the erroneous claim that NRA shut down firearms research.

For instance, in a 2012 opinion piece for The Washington Post, Rosenberg whined that “the National Rifle Association moved to suppress the dissemination” of CDC firearm research. As is clear from the text of the appropriation rider, the provision prohibits advocacy, not research. However, given the revelations in The Reload emails, Rosenberg’s former employer is actually attempting to “suppress the dissemination” of scientific research.

The lack of outcry from gun-control advocates and public-health officials over the CDC’s censorship of DGU research is enough to give a discerning observer the impression that the anti-gun criticism of NRA was never about protecting the agency’s ability to conduct and disseminate objective research.

On Dec. 22, 2022, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) wrote to the CDC demanding answers about the removal of DGU data from the CDC’s website. The letter demanded that the agency provide the senators with a recording of the Sept. 15, 2021, meeting that took place between the CDC and gun-control advocates, information on the CDC employees involved in the decision to remove the data, and information on any White House or other executive branch involvement in the influence campaign.

The senators called the agency’s behavior “a dereliction of duty.” Moreover, the lawmakers made clear that the “CDC must return to providing transparent and data-driven reporting on DGUs, and to provide Congress and the American people with an explanation of why the CDC allowed gun-control advocates to censor valid research and reporting conducted on the subject of defensive gun use.”

As of press time, CDC’s response to the senators has not been made public. NRA will continue to monitor this latest chapter in the CDC’s decades-long campaign against gun owners. We will also continue to work with pro-gun lawmakers in our decades-long fight against CDC’s gun-control advocacy and scientific censorship so that law-abiding Americans aren’t forced to fund government advocacy aimed at undermining their Second Amendment rights.


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