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30 Federal Prosecutors and Senior Government Officials Issue Letter Urging Congress to Fund Gun Violence Research

The group, which includes a former U.S. Attorney General, is calling for the Senate to match the House in authorizing $50 million for nonpartisan gun violence research.

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A group of 30 federal prosecutors and senior government officials — including Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General of the United States — has delivered a letter to leaders in Congress urging them to take swift and decisive action to address gun violence by authorizing $50 million for nonpartisan gun violence research.

“As former law enforcement leaders we are painfully aware of the destructive impact of gun violence as many of us tried to help communities deal with the aftermath of mass shootings, homicides, and violent assaults with firearms,” the letter states. 

Understanding the root causes of and solutions to gun violence, they argue, is key to helping lawmakers develop interventions that can both save lives and respect Second Amendment rights. It is key, furthermore, to helping those on the front lines charged with protecting public safety in the wake of a recent tragic spike in gun violence.

With Congress back in session, national law enforcement leadership is calling on members to appropriate funding for research at a range of federal agencies — not just the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health, but also Veterans Affairs and the National Institute of Justice/Department of Justice.

Read the full letter and signatories: 

Dear Congressional Leaders,

We write as an informal group of former federal prosecutors and senior government officials to urge Congress to appropriate funding for vital research to examine the contributing factors and root causes of gun violence and how to effectively reduce such violence to make our schools, churches, public places, and country safer without infringing on Second Amendment rights. As former law enforcement leaders we are painfully aware of the destructive impact of gun violence as many of us tried to help communities deal with the aftermath of mass shootings, homicides, and violent assaults with firearms. In the wake of horrific mass shootings in Philadelphia, El Paso, Dayton, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Columbine and all the other tragedies, the need for non-partisan, evidence-based, and data-driven research to guide policymaking on gun violence is critical. Gun violence is a serious problem, and it is a problem that is amenable to research-directed action.

As President Trump recently observed, “[i]n the two decades since Columbine, our nation has watched with rising horror and dread as one mass shooting has followed another — over and over again, decade after decade.” The President also acknowledged that he was “open and ready to listen and discuss all ideas that will actually work and make a very big difference.” A willingness “to listen and discuss all ideas” is important but will continue to yield disappointment when there is such a dearth of meaningful, data-driven research on the root causes of gun violence. Despite being authorized by Congress since 1996, the federal government has virtually abandoned any funding for gun violence research. Not surprisingly, the issue of gun violence is now discussed through partisan political soundbites rather than evidence-based research and data-driven conclusions. Consequently, policymaking has become uneducated guesswork with disappointing, if not tragic, results.

Having gone decades without meaningful gun violence research, there is no question that a serious effort aimed at getting to the root causes of mass shootings and gun violence will provide the best opportunity to fashion effective solutions — policymaking backed by data and evidence. By analogy, consider that in the 1970s our country was facing dramatic increases in road and traffic fatalities. In response, Congress established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, providing hundreds of millions of dollars for research into what could make cars, drivers, and roads safer. This research led to safety standards that have saved more than 600,000 lives over the last 40 years. In a sad irony, deaths from gun violence have surpassed traffic fatalities. According to the most recent available data, in 2017 there were roughly 37,133 traffic fatalities, compared to over 39,000 gun violence fatalities — two-thirds of which are suicides. Our history suggests that the model of conducting meaningful research and data analysis of a problem and then enacting responsive policies based upon the data, evidence, and conclusions of such research yields more effective results. There is not a more important issue to apply this model than the issue of gun violence. The time for meaningful, nonpartisan gun violence research is now.

Research is the key to identifying and developing policy solutions that reduce gun violence and protect individual liberties. Research is crucial to finding this middle ground. In addition, it is essential that gun policies and practices are backed up by a strong evidence base that demonstrates their effectiveness. Recently, Congress clarified in 2018 that the CDC could use its budget to conduct much needed gun violence research but has failed to appropriate any funding for such efforts. In this Congress, the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee has authorized $50 million — $25 million each to the CDC and NIH — to conduct gun violence research. However, there are other agencies such as the VA and NIJ/DOJ which could also meaningfully contribute to the landscape of data-driven research into the root causes of gun violence and help fashion effective solutions.

As former leaders in the law enforcement community, it is imperative that the federal government fund a diverse portfolio of research including but not limited to the areas of mental health, suicide, intimate partner homicides, defensive gun use, enforcement of existing firearms laws, and police officer training and safety be included in the research in order to fashion effective national policy to decrease incidents of gun violence. In fact, high-quality research is needed to craft policies that could contribute to reducing gun injuries, deaths, and violence and research should be funded that meets the most rigorous standards of quality and transparency.

Few would argue there is a more pressing domestic issue than addressing gun violence in this country. This is an issue of national concern that all well-meaning people want to see resolved. The fact that gun violence has become politicized and divisive erodes our ability to preserve the safety of our communities. We call upon members of congress to come together and appropriate funds for gun research to examine the root causes of gun violence, provide evidence-based solutions, and identify what can effectively be done to make our schools, churches, public places, and country safer. We call on the Senate to match the resolve in the House and authorize no less than $50 million for nonpartisan gun violence research and to examine the root causes and effects of gun violence using rigorous standards for scientific accuracy, quality and transparency.

As members of the law enforcement community we worked on the front lines of our criminal justice system and we support finding solutions based upon data-driven research and evidence-based analysis. We do not need knee-jerk legislative responses based upon political positioning rather than critical research and analysis — the stakes are too high to simply pass laws which are more effective at assuaging our need to do something rather than actually preventing gun violence.

For those of us who have served in law enforcement, our goal is to increase public safety. We cannot accomplish this if we do not have an accurate knowledge of the scope of the problem we face. The first step to preventing gun violence is to thoroughly understand the root causes of gun violence by conducting nonpartisan research. We ask that you dedicate the necessary resources for data-driven research and evidence-based analysis of the gun violence problem in this country.

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully yours,

Michael Mukasey

Former Attorney General of the United States
Former District Court Judge, Southern District of New York

Brett L. Tolman
Former United States Attorney, District of Utah
Former member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee
Former Assistant United States Attorney, District of Utah

Paul Cassell
Former Associate Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice

Bates Butler
Former United States Attorney, District of Arizona
Former First Assistant United States Attorney, District of Arizona
Former Deputy Pima County Attorney
Former Member of United States Capitol Police

Benjamin B. Wagner
Former United States Attorney, Eastern District of California
Former Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California
Former Member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee

William B. Cummings
Former United States Attorney, Eastern District of Virginia

D. Michael Crites
Former United States Attorney, Southern District of Ohio
Former Assistant United States Attorney, Southern District of Ohio

David Iglesias
Former United States Attorney, District of New Mexico
Former Member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee

Ed Dowd

Former United States Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri
Former President of the National Association of Former United States Attorneys

Ed Yarbrough
Former United States Attorney, Middle District of Tennessee
Former President (1983), Board Member and Former Chair, Criminal Court Committee

Greg G. Lockhart

Former United States Attorney, Southern District of Ohio
Former Assistant United States Attorney, Southern District of Ohio
Former Assistant Greene County Ohio Prosecutor

Herbert J. Stern
Former United States Attorney, District of New Jersey
Former United States District Judge, District of New Jersey
Former Assistant District Attorney, New York County, Homicide Bureau
Former Trial Attorney, Organized Crime & Racketeering Section of United States Dept. of Justice
Former Chief Assistant, United States Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey

James R. Dedrick
Former United States Attorney, Eastern District of Tennessee
Former United States Attorney, Eastern District of North Carolina
Former Assistant United States Attorney, Eastern District of Tennessee
Former Assistant United States Attorney, Eastern District of North Carolina
Former member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee

James McDevitt
Former United States Attorney, Eastern District of Washington
Lawrence Finder
Former United States Attorney, Southern District of Texas

Mike Cody
Former United States Attorney, Western District of Tennessee
Former Attorney General for the State of Tennessee

Mel McDonald
Former United States Attorney, District of Arizona
Former Superior Court Judge for Maricopa County
Former Prosecutor in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office

Steven Dettelbach
Former United States Attorney, Northern District of Ohio
Former member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee

Tim Johnson
Former United States Attorney, Southern District of Texas

Tom Heffelfinger

Former United States Attorney, District of Minnesota
Former Chairman, United States Department of Justice’s Native American Issues Subcommittee

Thomas J. Nolan
Former Assistant United States Attorney, Central District of California
Former Chief of the Major Fraud and Special Prosecutions Unit

David Coar
Former United States District Judge, Northern District of Illinois

Jack Pirozzolo
Former First Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts
Former Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts

Eric Benson
Former Assistant United States Attorney, District of Utah

Brett Parkinson
Former Assistant United States Attorney, District of Utah

Matt Lewis
Former Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division

John R. Dunne
Former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice
Former member of the New York State Senate

Michael Hays
Former Assistant United States Attorney, District of Columbia

Nathan Crane
Former Assistant United States Attorney, District of Nevada

Randy Luskey
Former Assistant United States Attorney, Northern District of California

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