STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Many people have opinions about the effect of guns on society. Not many people have facts. There's a shortage of research, and a big reason is a provision in federal law sponsored by a man who now regrets it. He's an ex-congressman, Jay Dickey. His law ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention never to fund research that could be seen as advocacy for gun control. Since the 1990s, that provision has commonly stopped any gun studies because researchers don't want to risk losing federal money, and that is what Jay Dickey regrets. The Arkansas politician and owner of two shotguns says he just wanted the CDC to follow a simple rule.
JAY DICKEY: Don't let any of those dollars go to gun control advocacy.
INSKEEP: So that's what the intent was. Did you intend to cut off all research on the effects of guns or gun ownership in society?
DICKEY: We didn't think about that. It turned out that that's what happened, but it wasn't aimed at that. And it wasn't necessary that all research stop. It just couldn't be the collection of data so that they can advocate gun control. That's all we were talking about. But for some reason, it just stopped altogether.
INSKEEP: Why do you think that was?
DICKEY: I don't know, but that's where my regret is. I was on to other things and worrying about my constituents. And I didn't follow through and say, we need - still need to do research. I didn't do that.
INSKEEP: Did this especially hit home in recent years? Because there have been some very, very highly publicized mass shootings, including the one the other day in Oregon.
DICKEY: I've been reminded of that through those things, yes. I've gone back through it in my mind to say, what could we have done, and I know what we could've done. We could've kept the fund alive and just restricted the expenditure of dollars.
INSKEEP: It has created a strange situation, hasn't it? If you want to learn details about mass shootings, you can't really find good information.
DICKEY: Well, I think you're right. And the thing that really brought this to my mind was watching as the little barricades were set up between the interstate to stop head-on collisions. The highway industry spent money in their scientific research to figure out what could be done, assuming that they were going to allow cars to continue to be on our highways. Enormous reduction of head-on collisions has been caused just by that little 2-and-a-half, 3-foot fence. We could do the same in the gun industry.
INSKEEP: You're saying there might be some way to not interfere with anybody's right to own a gun but regulate it in such a way that fewer people are killed by guns?
DICKEY: That's correct. I can't tell you what that might be, but I know this. All this time that we have had, we would've found a solution, in my opinion. And I think it's a shame that we haven't.
INSKEEP: What advice, then, would you give your former colleagues in Congress?
DICKEY: (Laughter) As if they would listen. But the point is that they need to reactivate that fund and be specific as to what that money is to be used for.
INSKEEP: Do you think that the NRA would be open to the change that you're talking about here?
DICKEY: They would have to be assured of the goodwill of the other side.
INSKEEP: You think that if that happened that the NRA might say, OK, fine, gun research, improving safety, that's OK.
DICKEY: Well, Stephen, I think the status quo is not acceptable. I think the NRA needs to be approached on that and said, do you want it to stay like it is? And I don't think they really do, but they think that they're in quicksand, and they don't know how to move.
INSKEEP: Well, Congressman Dickey, thanks very much for taking the time to talk with us today.
DICKEY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.