One remarkable feature of all existing data sources on firearms violence is their lack of timeliness. Other social indicators, particularly those measuring economic activity and performance, are available on a quarterly or monthly basis. By contrast, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers concerned with violent injury and death must contend with data that are infrequently collected and made available at least a year or more after they have been collected. The result is that nearly all studies of firearms violence are, in a real sense, historical in nature. Lack of timeliness in the availability of data is not a problem for investigating behavioral phenomena that change slowly over time, but the risk of firearms violence in the United States is not necessarily such a phenomenon. For example, rates of firearms violence, especially among youth, rose very rapidly to unprecedented levels during the early 1990s, only to peak and turn downward just as rapidly over the next few years. The popular characterization of those changes as an epidemic was not a misnomer, at least with respect to the speed with which they took place. Needless-to-say, monitoring such rapid and abrupt changes requires timely information.
Technical barriers no longer stand in the way of the timely collection, coding, and dissemination of key indicators of firearms violence. Local law enforcement agencies report data on a monthly basis to the FBI on serious assaults, robberies, and homicides by weapon type. Emergency departments and hospitals collect information on violent injuries and death just as frequently. Electronic data entry, coding, and checking have greatly reduced the time required to compile data on firearms violence, and the Internet permits nearly instantaneous dissemination both to special access users and broader audiences.
To better monitor trends in firearms and violence, the committee thinks that an important implementation objective of emerging data sets, such as the NIBRS and the NVDRS, should be dissemination of data on firearms violence on a quarterly basis. In addition, monitoring capabilities might be greatly improved if firearm-related behaviors could be added to any proposed revision of the ADAM survey, perhaps on a rotating schedule with the more detailed questions on drug use, and disseminated regularly.
None of the existing data sources, by itself or in combination with others, provides comprehensive, timely, and accurate data needed to answer many important questions pertaining to the role of firearms in violent events. Even some of the most basic descriptive questions cannot be an-