swered with existing data. For example, the existing data do not reveal information pertinent to answering the following questions: 12

  1. Where do youth who shoot themselves or others obtain their guns?

  2. In what proportion of intimate-partner homicides committed with a gun does the offender also take his or her own life or the lives of the victim’s children or protectors?

  3. Did the number of people shot with assault weapons change after the passage of the 1994 ban on assault weapons?

  4. What are the most common circumstances leading to unintentional firearm-related deaths? Are particular types or makes and models of firearms overrepresented in unintentional firearm-related deaths?

  5. What proportion of suicide or homicide victims were under the care of a mental health professional? What proportion were intoxicated with alcohol or illicit drugs at the time of death? How do these proportions compare with those for suicides committed by other means?

There are many other such “unanswerable questions” about firearm-related violence, and even more that can be answered only with great ambiguity. Data for estimating firearm-related mortality lack timeliness and contain only limited information on key circumstantial and weapon-related variables. For firearm-related morbidity data, key circumstantial and weapon-related information is also limited, and no nationally representative data sources monitor firearm-related hospitalizations and disabilities. Data on firearm storage practices, weapon carrying, and gun safety training are not routinely collected. Data for studying noncriminal violence are lacking.

Significant gaps exist in the nation’s ability to monitor firearm-related injury and assess firearm-related policies. In the committee’s view, the most important step to improve understanding of firearms and violence is to assemble better data. In the absence of improved data, the substantive questions addressed in this report are not likely to be resolved.

Emerging data have the potential to make important advances in understanding firearms and violence. In particular, the National Incident-Based Reporting System and the National Violent Death Reporting System can provide a wealth of information for characterizing violent events. Whether these data will also be effective for evaluating the effects of firearms, injury reduction policies, or other firearm-related policy ques-


We thank Catherine Barber and David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health for providing these examples by personal communication.

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