lems inherent in unraveling causal relationships between firearms policy and violence have not been fully considered or adequately addressed.
Nevertheless, many of the shortcomings described in this report stem from the lack of reliable data itself rather than the weakness of methods. In some instances—firearms violence prevention, for example—there are no data at all. Even the best methods cannot overcome inadequate data and, because the lack of relevant data colors much of the literature in this field, it also colors the committee’s assessment of that literature.
If policy makers are to have a solid empirical and research base for decisions about firearms and violence, the federal government needs to support a systematic program of data collection and research that specifically addresses that issue. Adverse outcomes associated with firearms, although large in absolute numbers, are statistically rare events and therefore are not observed with great frequency, if at all, in many ongoing national probability samples (i.e., on crime victimization or health outcomes). The existing data on gun ownership, so necessary in the committee’s view to answering policy questions about firearms and violence, are limited primarily to a few questions in the General Social Survey. There are virtually no ongoing, systematic data series on firearms markets. Aggregate data on injury and ownership can only demonstrate associations of varying strength between firearms and adverse outcomes of interest. Without improvements in this situation, the substantive questions in the field about the role of guns in suicide, homicide and other crimes, and accidental injury are likely to continue to be debated on the basis of conflicting empirical findings.
The committee reinforces recommendations made by past National Research Council committees and others to support the development and maintenance of the National Violent Death Reporting System and the National Incident-Based Reporting System. These data systems are designed to provide information that characterizes violent events. No single system will provide data that can answer all policy questions, but the necessary first step is to collect accurate and reliable information to describe the basic facts about violent injuries and deaths. The committee is encouraged by the efforts of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center pilot data collection program and the recent seed money provided to implement a Violent Death Reporting System at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.