Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson plans to devote his final three months in the U.S. Senate to advancing legislation he hopes will help reset Capitol Hill’s fraught debate over gun violence.
The new measure is not a gun control bill, the three-term senator insists. The veteran deal-maker instead wants to take a public health approach to the debate, adopting tactics not unlike those deployed to reduce tobacco use or fight AIDS by collecting and analyzing data that could form the bedrock of future negotiations.
The legislation, which Isakson plans to introduce Thursday, would set aside $75 million a year for the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the factors that contribute to mass violence – not just acts carried out with guns, but also knives, explosives and motor vehicles – and formulate prevention strategies based on data patterns.
“I don't know anybody that doesn't feel sympathy for the parent of a child who was killed in an accident at a school or mass murder of any type,” Isakson said in a recent interview. “All of us want to stop that. And the way you stop a disease is you diagnose them and find out what causes them.”
The bill is most likely Isakson’s last shot at brokering a bipartisan deal before he resigns Dec. 31 due to health reasons, ending a political career that’s stretched for 45 years.
But Isakson is introducing the legislation alone, without endorsements in hand from leadership, Democrats or the man who will determine whether any firearms legislation lives or dies: President Donald Trump. And he’s doing so days after House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry that threatens to grind all legislating to a halt on Capitol Hill.
Still, Isakson said it’s worth using his remaining time in Washington to try to bridge a seemingly intractable divide using the political capital he’s built in the Senate over the past 15 years.
"I'm just trying to get the debate on a higher plane and intellectually on a plane where it's not political,” he said.
Isakson has proudly touted his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, and the bill would not repeal the so-called Dickey Amendment, language dating to the mid-1990s that bars the CDC from advocating or promoting gun control.
The CDC currently has dedicated funding to study topics such as child abuse and sexual violence, but Congress has not set aside direct money for gun-related research, said Dr. Debra Houry, the director of the agency’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
“We do and continue to support data collection activities and analyses to document the public health burden of firearm injuries in the U.S.,” Houry said in an interview. “Studying mass violence, along with other types of violence, really contributes to our knowledge and helps us advance new strategies and refine existing strategies for prevention.”
CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement that did not endorse the bill that “combining CDC’s scientific expertise with expanded data gathering capabilities could help communities across the nation better understand and develop ways to prevent violence in all forms.”
A White House official said the ideas covered in Isakson’s legislation “have been raised with the White House, and we look forward to reviewing the text once introduced.”
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