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House Democrats are poised to approve new funding for gun violence research in the face of what they say is a “public health emergency” killing thousands of Americans every year.

If successful, it would be the first time in nearly 20 years that Congress has funded gun violence research after a measure passed in the 1990s discouraged federal agencies from studying the issue.

“We should not be afraid of research. Gun violence is a public health emergency,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s health subcommittee.

Why it matters:

This all comes back to the Dickey Amendment, passed in 1996, that prevented the use of federal funds to advocate for gun control. But Democrats and public health experts say it created a chilling effect at agencies studying gun violence prevention. Congress also hasn’t directed funding to the CDC for gun violence research since then.

A shift?:

Democrats pushed for a repeal of the Dickey Amendment in a funding bill last year after the Parkland shooting, but were rebuffed by Republicans who, at the time, were in the majority.

But House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (N.Y.) said the amendment could stay if Congress funded gun violence research.

Still, Republicans say the larger problem is directing federal agencies to study specific issues, especially ones that are politically sensitive.

“We’re pretty careful about trying to let researchers decide what the areas of research makes sense,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the top Republican on the subcommittee.

The agency perspective:

CDC Director Robert Redfield said the Dickey Amendment doesn’t prevent the agency from doing research. But he added that the CDC needs funding from Congress “to instruct us to do that research.”

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