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Flowers, candles and other items surround the famous Las Vegas sign at a makeshift memorial for victims of a mass shooting Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Las Vegas. Photo: John Locher, AP

Less than two weeks after a lone gunman fired down on a concert crowd in the deadliest rampage killing in American history, a group of U.S. senators are urging the National Institute of Health to re-start its program of researching gun violence.

It may become a political battle – as it has been for more than two decades

The NIH had funded 22 projects studying firearm violence with a cost of $18 million, the 27 Democratic lawmakers wrote to Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, in a Wednesday letter.

“With 93 Americans dying per day from gun-related fatalities, it is critical that NIH dedicate a portion of its resources to the public health consequences of gun violence,” the senators wrote. “We strongly urge you to renew the gun violence research program as soon as possible.”

The NIH program provided the previous funding from 2014 through 2017, and it was a response to President Barack Obama’s call for more research in the wake of the December 2012 rampage killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The NIH funds are separate from CDC funding, which has essentially been on-hold due to a Congressional spending bill provision 20 years ago. The CDC has not conducted large-scale research on firearm violence since 1996, when the Dickey Amendment was attached to a spending bill in the House of Representatives. That Amendment required that none of the funds made available for CDC research on injury prevention could advocate for gun control. (The legislation’s namesake, Arkansas Congressman Jay Dickey later recanted his role in the Amendment in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting in 2012. Dickey died earlier this year).

The senators took exception in their letter to such an interpretation, saying that it “does not prohibit objective, scientific inquiries into prevention.”

The gun-violence research, they write, is in the “sweet spot” of “saving lives,” the lawmakers add.

The National Rifle Association contends the push for gun violence research began in the late 1970s, and has been a cover for certain advocates to “increase support for gun control by defining firearms as a disease.” The efforts really accelerated during the Clinton Administration, the organization argues.

The Las Vegas Massacre resulted in 58 deaths and 489 wounded, from one man armed with legal rifles apparently retrofitted with “bump stocks” to increase the rate of fire, making them essentially automatic. The killer’s motives remain unknown, nearly two weeks later. (The NRA has called on the ATF to review whether bump stocks are legal under federal law).

Those deaths on the Las Vegas Strip are part of an approximate 11,000 firearm homicides per year, according to federal statistics.

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, flanked by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., left, and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., right, joins House Democrats in a call for action on gun safety legislation on the House steps Wednesday morning after the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas this week, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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