NIH Directors Pledges to be ‘Very Sensitive’ to Data Collection Prohibitions Even as Biden Pushes for Accelerated Research on Gun Violence

052621 Dr Collins NIH
VIDEO:  Hyde-Smith Airs Concerns About NIH Research and Gun Registries.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today received a promise from the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that the agency will be “very sensitive” to adhering to a long-standing federal prohibition data collection related to lawful gun ownership, which could be used to infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Hyde-Smith addressed gun rights as NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. testified at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing titled, National Institutes of Health’s FY22 Budget and the State of Medical Research.

In her questioning, Hyde-Smith cited a 2020 NIH research grant to Northwell Health of New York that involved asking patients about lawful gun ownership, in violation of federal policies prohibiting the creation of a federal firearms registry.

“I have long been concerned about how firearm registries can undermine the ability of law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Hyde-Smith said.  “Dr. Collins, given that President Biden is seeking increased funding for grants like the one awarded to Northwell, how are you making sure that such projects do not infringe on Americans’ constitutional gun rights or violate federal statutory prohibitions on gun registries?”

Collins testified that, while the NIH plans to pursue research on gun violence, the agency would be “mindful of the prohibition that Congress has put forward many years ago about not advocating for gun control.”

“I think in that instance, the particular grant, while you are right that they were asking for this information, it fell somewhat short of what most people would have called a broad concept of a gun registry,” Collins said.  “But I want to promise you, we are going to be very sensitive to those issues as we now, with the president’s budget, seek to see if we could do more to try to identify reasons that gun violence is so prominent and what research might teach us about how to save lives.”

Hyde-Smith first took issue the NIH-funded grant to Northwell in a November 2020 letter to Collins, in which she stressed that the Affordable Care Act included provisions to prohibit data collection activities related to lawful gun ownership, possession, use and storage.

“These provisions were enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to ensure that the sweeping new authorities created by the ACA and its amendments could not be used as a tool to discourage lawful firearm ownership or create registries of firearm owners,” Hyde-Smith wrote.

President Biden is scheduled to formally submit his FY2022 budget request to Congress on Friday, May 28.  The initial Biden budget outline released last month indicated that the President plans to double NIH funding for gun violence research.

In March, Hyde-Smith reintroduced the Gun-owner Registration Information Protection (GRIP) Act, a measure to clarify existing law that prohibits the use of any federal funding by states or local entities to store or list sensitive, personal information related to the legal ownership or possession of firearms.  The legislation is in response to states that in recent years have enacted statutes requiring gun owners to register their handguns.