RFK, Jr. Factchecked on Claim NIH Can't Research Mass Shootings

AP Photo/Meg Kinnard

Robert Kennedy, Jr. is an interesting individual, at least as an independent presidential candidate.

He comes from political royalty, so to speak, being the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy, as well as the son of Robert Kennedy who was likely to be the Democratic nominee for president before his assassination.


He's been involved in politics for some time as well, primarily as an environmental activist. While there's no reason to believe he should have been a slam dunk for the Democrats' nomination, he should have at least been a strong contender.

Yet he wasn't.

Part of that is because of his vocal anti-vaccine stance, one that predated the controversial COVID jab and includes well-documented and well-researched vaccines the vast majority of us got without issue.

And then there's the fact that he decided to run for the nomination against a sitting president. Democrats weren't interested, so RFK, Jr. took his show independent and is generating a lot of press.

That means when he says something inaccurate, he's likely to be called on it.

Yet a recent fact-check was startling to me. Why? Because it pointed out just how wrong RFK was on a point that a lot of gun control advocates would probably still push.

The National Institutes of Health is the federal government’s main agency for supporting medical research. Is it barred from researching mass shootings? That’s what presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said recently.

Kennedy, whose statements about conspiracy theories earned him PolitiFact’s 2023 “Lie of the Year,” is running as an independent third-party candidate against President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate, and the presumptive Republican nominee, former President Donald Trump.

On April 21 on X, Kennedy flagged his recent interview with conservative commentator Glenn Beck, which touched on gun policy. Kennedy summarized his gun policy views in the post, writing, “The National Institutes of Health refuses to investigate the mystery; in fact, Congress prohibits the NIH from researching the cause of mass shootings. Under my administration, that rule ends — and our kids’ safety becomes a top priority.”

But this information is outdated.

In 1996, Congress passed the “Dickey Amendment,” an appropriations bill provision that federal officials widely interpreted as barring federally funded research related to gun violence (though some observers say this was a misinterpretation). Congress in 2018 clarified that the provision didn’t bar federally funded gun-related research, and funding for such efforts has been flowing since 2020.

Kennedy’s campaign did not provide evidence to support his statement.


Moreover, researching mass shooters themselves, such as looking for the psychological issues that might lead someone down that particular road, was never remotely considered taboo.

Sure, trying to look at it as a gun question would have been under the NIH's tortured understanding of the Dickey Amendment--which I've long maintained didn't say what they claimed it did but now kind of wish that it had--might have been a no-no, but research the killers themselves? Never.

And that would be a key focus for the causes of mass shootings.

Yet part of what was surprising is the above might not be from a Politifact link, but it's still from Politifact. The writer is acknowledged as a Politifact writer and there's a blurb near the top noting this was written "in partnership" with Politifact.

And they at least acknowledge that many people argued the Dickey Amendment did not stop research, just advocacy.

Look, I know a lot of people are enamored with RFK, Jr., but the truth is that the man has problems, including not keeping up with what the current laws are. 

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