Using the conventional standards of science, we have reviewed the data and research on firearms and have suggested ways by which these data and studies can be improved. Our readers will judge how well we have done this. We hope they will bring to that assessment the same standards of evidence that we applied in our work.
The chapters that follow review and analyze what is known about firearms and violence. Chapter 2 describes the major data sources for research on firearms and violence. This summary assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each system and suggests improvements necessary to make significant advances in understanding the role of firearms in violence. Chapter 3 is a summary of the data describing the extent of firearm violence, firearm ownership, the perpetrators and victims of firearm violence, and the context in which firearm violence occurs. Descriptive in form, it also identifies gaps in understanding of some of the basic facts about the role firearms play in intentional violence. Chapter 4 addresses how criminals and those who use firearms to commit suicide gain access to them. It includes an assessment of various attempts to limit access by everyone and by selected subsets of the population. Chapter 5 assesses the research on the use of firearms to defend against crime, and Chapter 6 examines the impact of laws that facilitate the carrying of weapons.
The committee paid close attention to these issues because they have been central to the recent scholarship on firearms and because they demonstrate many of the difficulties of doing research on firearms and violence. Committee member Joel Horowitz further discusses these issues in Appendix D. Committee member James Q. Wilson has written a dissent that applies to Chapter 6 only (Appendix A), and the committee has written a response (Appendix B).
Chapter 7 considers the role of firearms in suicide. While some of the issues are similar to those encountered in the study of violence, the differences are such that separate attention is required, especially for issues of motivation, firearm acquisition, and lethality. In Chapter 8 we analyze the research on the prevention of firearm violence, reviewing research on the effectiveness of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention programs. Special attention is given to efforts to prevent gun use by youth. Chapter 9 examines the role criminal justice interventions can play in reducing firearm violence. While many of these efforts are new and have not been adequately evaluated, they are frequently thought to hold promise for immediate impact.