Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is wrong about a ban on NIH research into mass shootings

The National Institutes of Health is the federal government’s primary agency for supporting medical research. Shouldn’t she investigate mass shootings? Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said this recently.

Kennedy, whose statements about conspiracy theories earned him PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year 2023,” is running as an independent third party candidate against President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and the presumptive Republican nominee, former President Donald Trump.

On April 21, Kennedy on X highlighted his recent interview with conservative commentator Glenn Beck, which addressed gun policy. Kennedy summarized his views on gun policy in the post, writing: “The National Institutes of Health refuses to investigate the mystery; in fact, Congress prohibits the NIH from conducting research into the cause of mass shootings. Under my administration, that rule will end, and the safety of our children will become a top priority.”

But this information is outdated.

In 1996, Congress passed the “Dickey Amendment,” an appropriations bill provision that was widely interpreted by federal officials as banning federally funded research related to gun violence (although some observers say this was a misinterpretation). Congress in 2018 made clear that the provision does not prevent federally funded gun-related research, and funding for such efforts has been flowing since 2020.

Kennedy’s campaign provided no evidence to support his statement.

What was the Dickey Amendment?

After criticizing some federally funded research articles on firearms in the mid-1990s, gun advocates, including the National Rifle Association, lobbied to end federal government funding for gun violence research.

In 1996, Congress passed the text of the appropriations bill, which stated 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 language is named after one of its backers, Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark).

But the Dickey Amendment, as written, did not outright ban all gun-related research.

“Any honest study that isn’t rigged to produce results that advance gun control could be funded by the CDC,” said Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University. But CDC officials, experts said, interpreted the Dickey Amendment as a ban on all gun-related research funding.

This perception meant the amendment had “a chilling effect on gun research funding,” said Allen Rostron, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who has written about the amendment. Federal agencies “did not want to take a risk in funding research that could be seen as a violation of the restriction” and thus “essentially did not fund research on gun violence.”

Furthermore, the Dickey Amendment targeted only the CDC, and not all other federal agencies. Congress extended the restriction to NIH-funded research in 2011.

Although the Dickey Amendment does not ban gun-related research, federal decision makers acted as if they did by not pursuing such research.

We’re moving past the Dickey Amendment

Over time, gun industry critics made an issue of the Dickey Amendment and rallied support from Congress to clarify the amendment.

In 2018, lawmakers approved language stating that the amendment would not impose a blanket ban on federally funded gun violence research. By 2020, federal firearms research grants were again provided, starting with a $25 million split between the CDC and the NIH.

Meanwhile, the CDC and NIH are funding a “large portfolio” of gun violence research, said Daniel Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Also, the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice has funded the largest investigation into mass shootings to date, Webster said, and is seeking applications to investigate mass shootings.

Our statement

Kennedy said, “Congress prohibits the NIH from investigating the cause of mass shootings.”

Although the Dickey Amendment, an appropriations bill provision supported by the gun industry, did not ban all federally supported gun-related research between 1996 and 2018, decision makers acted as if it did.

However, in 2018, Congress clarified the language of the provision. And since 2020, CDC, NIH and other federal agencies have funded millions of dollars in gun-related research, including studies of mass shootings.

We consider Kennedy’s statement to be untrue.

Kaiser health newsThis article was adapted from, a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF – the independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.