CDC Hiding The Truth On Defensive Gun Use?
Last June, CRPA attorney Kostas Moros noticed something funny – the CDC had edited its website’s references to defensive gun use. For years, the CDC cited DGU estimates from both the NCVS and private surveys, saying that estimates range from “60,000 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year,” and linking to a 2013 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Last year, that was changed to instead state that: “Estimates of defensive gun use vary depending on the questions asked, populations studied, timeframe, and other factors related to study design. Given the wide variability in estimates, additional research is necessary to understand defensive gun use prevalence, frequency, circumstances, and outcomes.”
This change piqued Kostas’s curiosity, so he filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the CDC asking for all documents and communications related to the decision to change the website. Earlier this month, around 6 months after the FOIA request was first filed, he received a trove of emails, some of which were redacted, showing how the decision to make the edit was made. Unfortunately, it was not the result of any new research or extended deliberations between the various sides of the defensive gun use debate. Instead, it was a one-sided lobbying campaign by gun control advocates who were angry that the DGU figures reported were hurting gun control efforts. As reported in The Reload after Kostas shared the documents with a journalist there, “The lobbying campaign spanned months and culminated with a private meeting between CDC officials and three advocates last summer…Introductions from the White House and Senator Dick Durbin’s (D., Ill.) office helped the advocates reach top officials at the agency after their initial attempt to reach out went unanswered.”
The CDC initially refused to change its website, but relented after the private meeting (no recording or transcript of that meeting exists, or if it does, it was not provided in response to the FOIA request). They made no effort to contact any other researchers, nor did they contact any gun rights advocates to get their input before the change was made.
Now, five Senators have sent a letter to the CDC demanding answers, including the ranking member on the committee that oversees the CDC (Senator Cassidy). The senate letter comes just after two House members, Representatives Elise Stefanik (NY-21) and August Pfluger (TX-11), fired off their own letter to the CDC demanding answers and a reversal of the move.
CRPA is thrilled to see that its FOIA request may end up making a real difference. We hope that this fiasco leads to real change in how the CDC communicates with gun control advocates. Substantive edits to the information posted on its website should be the result of an open process in which all the major sides of a debate are consulted, not secret stealth edits that result from one-sided shady lobbying efforts.