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Report: Politicized CDC Altered Its Own Website Under Pressure From Gun Control Activists

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

The CDC has been under fire from critics for the last several years, facing allegations of myriad errors and failures during the COVID pandemic.  One of the central critiques is that CDC officials de-prioritized clear, accurate, data-based messaging and policies, in favor of a politicized agenda.  There's no question that CDC leadership, and leadership within the national health policy bureaucracy broadly, have a lot to answer for.  Chalking up specific questions and criticisms to attacks on Science Itself won't cut it.  Whether one thinks that the CDC is irrevocably broken, of is in need of serious reforms, it should be abundantly clear that the organization's credibility crisis is self-inflicted.  Some may scoff and fulminate at Gov. Ron DeSantis' recent call for a counterweight organization to the CDC, but many Americans have concluded that the agency, as it is currently constituted, is incompetent and politicized.  This new report from The Reload, on an issue that's quite separate from the government's COVID response, will only fuel perceptions of politics supplanting science:

The Center For Disease Control (CDC) deleted a reference to a study it commissioned after a group of gun-control advocates complained it made passing new restrictions more difficult. The lobbying campaign spanned months and culminated with a private meeting between CDC officials and three advocates last summer, a collection of emails obtained by The Reload show. Introductions from the White House and Senator Dick Durbin’s (D., Ill.) office helped the advocates reach top officials at the agency after their initial attempt to reach out went unanswered. The advocates focused their complaints on the CDC’s description of its review of studies that estimated defensive gun uses (DGU) happen between 60,000 and 2.5 million times per year in the United States–attacking criminologist Gary Kleck’s work establishing the top end of the range...[Mark] Bryant, who runs the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), argued Kleck’s estimate has been damaging to the political prospects of passing new gun restrictions and should be eliminated from the CDC’s website...
Despite initially standing behind the description in the defensive gun use section of its 
“fast facts” website on gun violence, the CDC backtracked after a previously-undisclosed virtual meeting with the advocates on September 15th, 2021...The decision to remove a CDC-commissioned report from the agency’s website on gun statistics at the apparent behest of gun-control advocates may further strain its relationship with Congressional overseers, especially pro-gun Republicans who are set to take control of the House next year...Kleck, Professor Emeritus at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, stood by his research. He said the CDC did not reach out to him for his perspective before making the change. He argued the removal of the reference to his estimate was “blatant censorship” and said it was evidence of the politicization of the agency. “CDC is just aligning itself with the gun-control advocacy groups,” Kleck told The Reload. “It’s just saying: ‘we are their tool, and we will do their bidding.’ And that’s not what a government agency should do.”

Anti-gun activists went through the Democratic White House and a senior Democratic Senator's office to connect with the CDC, in order to agitate for the removal of a statistic they assert to be "debunked," because that statistic makes their political activism harder.  And the CDC complied with their wishes.  Very Sciency, isn't it?  Here's more color on the types of partisans who were in the CDC's ear on this issue, successfully lobbying for an alteration of the agency's website:

The CDC issued a statement explaining their purported reasons for making the changes demanded by the progressive advocacy groups, but the scholar whose work was scrubbed is rightly cynical about it:

I have no specialized knowledge about the accuracy of any of the statistics regarding annual instances of defensive gun uses in the United States.  It's true that 60,000 to 2.5 million is a very broad range, although it's clear that firearms are used in self-defense many times every day across the country.  What is disturbing is left-wing groups deciding that one study on the subject is an obstacle to their activism, and getting it erased from the CDC website, without any input from the author of the study.  As Gutowski notes in his story on this, House Republicans were already likely to engage in aggressive oversight after pandemic-related debacles, with their relationship with top health officials historically strained.  This won't help matters.  And tough questions need to be asked.  A politicized public health bureaucracy presents a grave threat, on a number of levels, and the CDC's major credibility problems cry out for scrutiny and accountability.


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