• Assessed current data bases so as to make clear their strengths and limitations.

  • Assessed research studies on firearm use and the effect of efforts to reduce unjustified firearm use.

  • Assessed knowledge of illegal firearms markets.

This report presents the committee’s findings.


Many people reading this report will ask whether the committee favors or opposes gun control, accepts or rejects the right of people to own guns, and endorses or questions the conflicting interpretations of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”).

Resolving these issues, though important, is not the task the committee was given. We were asked to evaluate the data and research on firearm violence to see what is known about the causal connection, if any, between firearms on one hand and violence, suicide, and personal defense on the other. In carrying out this task, we have tried to do what scholars are supposed to do—namely, assess the reliability of evidence about the ownership of firearms and discern what, if anything, is known about the connection between firearms and violence. This involves looking at not only how many firearms are owned and who owns them but also the complex personality, social, and circumstantial factors that intervene between a firearm and its use and the effect, if any, of programs designed to reduce the likelihood that a firearm will cause unjustified harm.1 It also includes investigating the effectiveness of firearm use in self-defense. It does not include making judgments about whether individuals should be allowed to possess firearms or whether specific firearm control proposals should be enacted.

Questions of cause-and-effect and more-or-less are not how many Americans think about firearms. Some individuals believe that firearm ownership is a right that flows directly from the Second Amendment or indirectly from every citizen’s right to self-defense. Others believe that there is no right to bear arms, and that firearms play little or no role in self-defense.


A harm is unjustified if it involves a homicide, an accident, or a suicide. It is justified if it involves the reasonable use of force by law enforcement personnel or by people defending themselves against crimes. It is difficult, of course, to count justified and unjustified harms accurately and even harder to discover whether a program intended to reduce unjustified harm has actually done so and, if it has, whether it did so in ways that have not inappropriately reduced justified harms. For a more detailed discussion of the definition of these terms, see Black’s Law Dictionary (Gardner, 1999).

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement