Advocacy Archive

Behavioral Research on Violence Passed by Senate

May 20, 1999

Dear Colleague:

The headlines have been about the Senate debating gun control, but there's much more to the legislation they're working on. Yesterday evening, the Senate approved $25 million in new money over 5 years for NIH to conduct behavioral and social science research on youth violence. The context, of course, is the unspeakably tragic high school shootings in Littleton, Colo., which shocked Congress and the country into a sense of urgency about violence among young people. In the aftermath of Littleton, as everyone tried to piece together how something like this could happen and whether it could have been prevented, the news portrayed a national rush to judgement with many too many "experts" offering a blend of pop psychology and finger-pointing. To us, all that analysis, however well-intended, was a stark reminder of just how much we don't yet know about the causes of violence, much less its prevention. And it was a reminder as well that behavioral science is key to finding out.

The NIH violence research amendment was initiated by APS to spur additional research -- to produce fundamental and applied knowledge about violent behavior for effective treatment and prevention. This is not a new area of research for NIH, but we made the case to Congress that more is needed, and that even where we have information, we need to better understand how to apply it. Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) championed the amendment, but we also were supported by other leaders on the bill -- Sens. Hatch (R-UT), Brownback (R-KS), Jeffords (R-VT), Frist (R-TN), and Sessions (R-AL), enough support so that the amendment was accepted under a unanimous consent agreement of the entire Senate.

The amendment, as passed, is at the bottom of this email. As you read it, note the following:

  • A great deal of important research should be done as a result of it — $25 million more than would have been done without it, and both basic and applied research can be supported;
  • The principle in it is of "new" money ("In the event funds are not separately appropriated to carry out this section, the Director of the National Institutes of Health shall carry out this section using funds appropriated generally to the National Institutes of Health, provided that funds expended for this purpose shall supplement and not supplant existing funding for behavioral research activities at the National Institutes of Health."); and
  • It is a model for how to use the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research to pass money to several NIH institutes for an initiative that crosses traditional boundaries. The NIH Institutes already supporting behavioral research on violence primarily are the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, but also include the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

This amendment is a big first step, but it is the first of several to be taken before the research is funded. Later today the Senate should pass the entire bill. Then the House of Representatives needs to act. (We are making our case there, too.) But the sense of urgency, fueled by another shooting in Georgia this morning, has galvanized the political will of a broad range of actors in this debate, making it likely that the legislative process will move more quickly than usual.

Best, Alan


Sec. ___. BEHAVIORAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON YOUTH VIOLENCE

  1. NIH Research -- The National Institutes of Health, acting through the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, shall carry out a coordinated, multi-year course of behavioral and social science research on the causes and prevention of youth violence.

  2. Nature of Research -- Funds made available to the National Institutes of Health pursuant to this section shall be utilized to conduct, support, coordinate and disseminate basic and applied behavioral and social science research with respect to youth violence, including research on 1 or more of the following subjects:

    1. The etiology of youth violence;
    2. Risk factors for youth violence;
    3. Childhood precursors to antisocial violent behavior;
    4. The role of peer pressure in inciting youth violence;
    5. The processes by which children develop patterns of thought and behavior, including beliefs about the value of human life;
    6. Science-based strategies for preventing youth violence, including school and community-based programs;
    7. Other subjects that the Director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research deems appropriate.

  3. Role of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research -- Pursuant to this section and section 404A of the Public Health Service Act, the Director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research shall —

    1. coordinate research on youth violence conducted or supported by the agencies of the National Institutes of Health;
    2. identify youth violence research projects that should be conducted or supported by the research institutes, and develop such projects in cooperation with such institutes;
    3. take steps to further cooperation and collaboration between the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the agencies of the Department of Justice and other governmental and non-governmental agencies with respect to youth violence research conducted or supported by such agencies;
    4. establish a clearinghouse for information about youth violence research conducted by governmental and non-governmental entities;
    5. periodically report to Congress on the state of youth violence research and make recommendations to Congress regarding such research.

  4. Funding -- There are authorized to be appropriated $5,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2000 through 2004 to carry out this section. If amounts are not separately appropriated to carry out this section, the Director of the National Institutes of Health shall carry out this section using funds appropriated generally to the National Institutes of Health, except that funds expended for this purpose shall supplement and not supplant existing funding for behavioral research activities at the National Institutes of Health.

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