NIJ grants funding gun violence research

Before I get into the nitty gritty of this post, a few notes. First, my next post in the Criminal Justician series on ASEBP is up, Violent Crime Interventions That are Worth it. I discuss more of the costs with implementing hot spots policing and focussed deterrence from the police departments perspective, and why they are clearly worthwhile investments for many police departments facing violence problems.

Second, I want to point folks to Jacob Kaplan’s blog, most recent post The Covid Kings of Salami. Some of Jacob’s thoughts I disagree with (I think smaller papers are OK, or that policing what is big enough is a waste of time). But if you like my posts on CJ topics, you should check out Jacob’s as well.

Now onto the title – a work in progress at the moment, but working with Scott Jacques on the openness of funded US criminology research. A short post in response to the oft mistaken idea that gun violence research is banned in the US. This is confused logic related to the Dickey act saying awards for gun control advocacy are banned as being federally funded by the CDC.

There are other agencies who fund gun violence research, in particular here I have scraped data from the National Institute of Justice (what I think is likely to be the largest funder in this area). Here is some python code showing some analyses of those awards.

So first, here you can download and see the size of the scraped dataset of NIJ awards:

import pandas as pd

# award data scraped, stay tuned for code for that!
award_url = 'https://dl.dropbox.com/s/eon4iokv0qpllgl/NIJ_Awards.csv?dl=0'
award_df = pd.read_csv(award_url)
print(award_df.shape)
print(award_df['award_text'][0])

So as a first blush check for awards related to gun violence, we can just search the text for the award narrative for relevant terms, here I just search for GUN VIOLENCE and FIREARM. A more thorough investigation would either code the 7k awards or the original solicitations, but I think this will likely be largely accurate (probably slightly more false positives than false negatives).

award_df['award_textU'] = award_df['award_text'].str.upper()

# Lets try to find any of these (other text?)
word_list = ['GUN VIOLENCE','FIREARM']

for w in word_list:
    award_df[w] = 1*(award_df['award_textU'].str.find(w) > -1)

award_df['AnyGun'] = 1*(award_df[word_list].sum(axis=1) > 0)
print(award_df['AnyGun'].sum())

So we can see that we have 1,082 awards related to gun violence (out of 7,215 listed by the NIJ). Lets check out the total funding for these awards:

# Lets figure out the total allocated
award_df['AwardVal'] = award_df['field-award-amount'].str.strip()
award_df['AwardVal'] = award_df['AwardVal'].replace('[\$,]', '', regex=True)
award_df['AwardVal'] = pd.to_numeric(award_df['AwardVal'])
award_df['Tot'] = 1

cf = ['Tot','AwardVal']
award_df.groupby('AnyGun',as_index=False)[cf].sum()

So we have in the listed awards (that go back to 1998 but appear more consistently filled in starting in 2002), over 300 million in grant awards related to gun violence/firearm research. Here we can see the breakdown over time.

# See awards over time
gun_awards = award_df[award_df['AnyGun'] == 1].copy()
gun_awards.groupby('field-fiscal-year',as_index=False)[cf].sum()

So the awards gifted by NIJ no doubt have a different flavor/orientation than if you had the same money from CDC. (There are other orgs though, like NSF, who I am sure have funded research projects relevant to gun violence over time as well.) Sometimes people distinguish between “public health” vs “criminal justice” approaches, but this is a pretty superficial dichotomy (plenty of people in public health have gotten NIJ awards).

So you certainly could argue the Dickey amendment changed the nature of gun violence research being conducted. And since the CDC budget is so massive, I suppose you could argue that it reduced the overall amounts of gun violence research being funded (although it is likely 0 sum, more for firearm research would have slashed some other area). You could use the same argument to say NIJ though is underfunded instead of advocating for the CDC to write the checks though.

But the stronger statement I often see stated, that firearm research is entirely banned in the US, is not even close to being correct.

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