hunt or shoot at target ranges without ever inflicting harm on any human. It is estimated that there are 13 million hunters in the United States (U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, 2002) and more than 11,000 shooting tournaments sanctioned by the National Rifle Association each year (National Rifle Association, 2002). Others have firearms because they believe the weapons will help them defend themselves. Many people carry their weapons on their person or in their cars. We do not know accurately how often armed self-defense occurs or even how to precisely define self-defense. The available data are believed to be unreliable, but even the smallest of the estimates indicates that there may be hundreds of defensive uses every day (Cook, 1991; Kleck and Gertz, 1995).
Given the importance of this issue and the continued controversy surrounding the debate on firearms, the need was clear for an unbiased assessment of the existing portfolio of data and research. Accordingly, the National Academies were asked by a consortium of both federal agencies—the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and private foundations—the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation—to assess the data and research on firearms.
The Committee to Improve Research and Data on Firearms was charged with providing an assessment of the strengths and limitations of the existing research and data on gun violence 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 whether firearm-related homicide and suicide become accepted as ways of resolving problems, especially among youth; however, there is a lack of empirical research to address these two issues.
The task of the committee was not to settle all arguments about the causes and cures of violence but rather to evaluate the data and research on firearms injury and violence. Over the past few decades, there have been many studies of the relationship between access to firearms and firearm violence, family and community factors that influence lethal behavior, the extent and value of defensive firearm use, the operation of legal and illegal firearms markets, and the effectiveness of efforts to reduce the harms or increase the benefits of firearm use. We have evaluated these data and studies. In doing so, we have: