Gun control advocates successfully pressured the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into hiding one of its own studies on defensive use of firearms, triggering lawmakers to question where the agency’s loyalties lie.
The CDC deleted from its website a study estimating as many as 2.5 million defensive gun uses in the U.S. after months of pressure from gun control advocates, who said that data point was “misleading” and made it harder to pass new restrictions, according to emails revealed by The Reload.
On one of the CDC’s main pages about firearms, “Fast Facts: Firearm Violence Prevention,” the agency used to cite a study it commissioned that indicated “a range of 60,000 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year.”
But after months of emails from gun control advocates and a half-hour meeting with them in September, that was replaced with a statement that because estimates have “wide variability … additional research is necessary.”
The figure of “2.5 million” defensive gun uses stems from a 1993 survey widely cited by gun rights activists, The Trace reported. Advocates on either side of the issue have long debated its reliability, including at length in POLITICO Magazine.
Criminologist Gary Kleck, whose research established that top-end estimate, told The Reload that the CDC’s edit was “blatant censorship.”
“CDC is just aligning itself with the gun-control advocacy groups,” Kleck said. “It’s just saying: ‘we are their tool, and we will do their bidding.’ And that’s not what a government agency should do.”
In one email disclosed by The Reload, the CDC tried justifying the edit. The agency drafted a statement that the estimate’s “very wide range” could “raise more questions than it answered.”
Senate Republicans reacted to The Reload’s report on Thursday, sending a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky saying the agency’s “credibility” was at stake. Five senators signed the letter asking for records on the virtual meeting and details on how the change was made.
“The CDC did exactly what the gun control organizations wanted, rejecting the science,” the letter stated. “This is a dereliction of duty by the CDC.”
The Trace first reported in June that the change had resulted from prolonged lobbying by gun control advocates. The new emails obtained by The Reload showed how the CDC met and discussed the figures with gun control activists like Bryant and Devin Hughes, as well as Newtown Action Alliance chairwoman Po Murray.
“That 2.5 Million number needs to be killed, buried, dug up, killed again and buried again,” wrote Bryant, executive director of the Gun Violence Archive, in an email to CDC officials after the meeting. He added that while it had been “debunked repeatedly,” it is still used by “gun rights folks” as a “blunt instrument against gun safety regulations.”
The CDC had consistently pushed back against the advocates, telling them that officials “stand behind our fact sheet.” But after a virtual meeting with all three in September 2021, a CDC official told Hughes the agency would “make some edits” to the fact sheet to “address the concerns you and other partners have raised.”
This article originally stated that the CDC emailed a statement to a reporter with The Trace explaining the edit to the fact sheet, but the CDC only circulated the statement internally. The agency did not send the reporter the statement. The article has been corrected to reflect this fact. American Military News regrets this error.