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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
questions related to firearms and violence. However, in key data areas—the availability of firearms, the use of firearms, and the role of firearms in injuries and death—critical information is absent.
A PATCHWORK OF DATA SETS
To study firearms and violence, researchers and policy makers rely on a patchwork of data sources collected for more general purposes of monitoring the nation’s health and crime problems. No authoritative source of information exists to provide representative, accurate, complete, timely, and detailed data on the incidence and characteristics of firearm-related violence in the United States. Rather, there are many different sources of data that researchers use to draw inferences about the empirical questions of interest. Some information on firearms and violence is found in probability samples of well-defined populations, such as the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the General Social Survey (GSS). Other information comes from administrative data, such as the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and the trace data of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). Still other information comes from case studies, social experiments, and other one-time surveys conducted on special populations. Table 2-1 lists characteristics of some of the commonly used data sources.
Perhaps because these data sets serve many purposes, the strengths and limitations of each source have been generally well documented in the literature.1 This section provides a brief description of the some of the key data sources used in the research literature on firearms injury and violence and discussed in the report. This summary is not an exhaustive treatment of the data sources listed in Table 2-1, nor is it complete in its assessment of the specific data sources considered. Rather, it is intended to provide relevant background material on the key data.
Data on Violence and Crime
It is axiomatic that reliable and valid surveys on violence, offending, and victimization are critical to an understanding of violence and crime in the
See, for example, Annest and Mercey (1998); Biderman and Lynch (1991); Maltz (1999); MacKenzie et al. (1990); Jarvis (1992); Wiersema et al. (2000); and Riedel (1999). The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) produces an ongoing series of methodological reports on the GSS, covering topics ranging from item order and wording, to nonresponse errors, and hundreds of other methodological topics. The reports are available directly from the NORC and are listed on http://www.icpsr.umich.edu:8080/GSS under “GSS Methodological Reports.”