It’s unclear exactly what sorts of things this phrase prohibits. But no federal employee was willing to risk their career to find out, according to a December Journal of the American Medical Association article. Several years later, Congress made the language applicable to the Department of Health and Human Services, as well.
“Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDC’s website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-related violence,” says the article by Arthur Kellermann and Frederick Rivara.
Generally speaking, gun-rights organizations oppose treating firearms as a public-health issue, as opposed to a constitutional right.
What don't we know?
This congressional prohibition did not end the study of guns in America, of course. The federal government does not fund all of the nation’s social research. In addition, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, continue to estimate statistics such as the percentage of homicides committed with firearms.
What are missing are more expansive studies, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
“None of the existing sources of statistics provide either comprehensive, timely, or accurate data with which to assess definitively whether there is a causal connection between firearms and violence,” writes CRS’s William Krouse.
Other researchers say that right now the US has little information on basic gun topics, such as how many people own what sorts of guns in what cities and states. There is not much good information on the correlation of gun ownership to homicide rates, or what percentage of guns used in crimes were obtained legally, and if not, where they came from.