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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
and identifying important gaps in knowledge; describing new methods to put research findings and data together to support the design and implementation of improved prevention, intervention, and control strategies for reducing gun-related crime, suicide, and accidental fatalities; and utilizing existing data and research on firearms and firearm violence to develop models of illegal firearms markets. The charge also called for examining the complex ways in which firearm violence may become embedded in community life and considering whether firearm-related homicide and suicide have become accepted as ways of resolving problems, especially among youth. However, there is a lack of empirical research to address these two issues.
Empirical research on firearms and violence has resulted in important findings that can inform policy decisions. In particular, a wealth of descriptive information exists about the prevalence of firearm-related injuries and deaths, about firearms markets, and about the relationships between rates of gun ownership and violence. Research has found, for example, that higher rates of household firearms ownership are associated with higher rates of gun suicide, that illegal diversions from legitimate commerce are important sources of crime guns and guns used in suicide, that firearms are used defensively many times per day, and that some types of targeted police interventions may effectively lower gun crime and violence. This information is a vital starting point for any constructive dialogue about how to address the problem of firearms and violence.
While much has been learned, much remains to be done, and this report necessarily focuses on the important unknowns in this field of study. The committee found that answers to some of the most pressing questions cannot be addressed with existing data and research methods, however well designed. For example, despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime, and there is almost no empirical evidence that the more than 80 prevention programs focused on gun-related violence have had any effect on children’s behavior, knowledge, attitudes, or beliefs about firearms. The committee found that the data available on these questions are too weak to support unambiguous conclusions or strong policy statements.
Drawing causal inferences is always complicated and, in the behavioral and social sciences, fraught with uncertainty. Some of the problems that the committee identifies are common to all social science research. In the case of firearms research, however, the committee found that even in areas in which the data are potentially useful, the complex methodological prob-