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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
Interventions to Reduce Violence and Suicide
Even if it were to be shown that firearms are a cause of lethal violence, the development of successful programs to reduce such violence would remain a complex undertaking, because such interventions would have to address factors other than the use of a gun. Three chapters in this report focus specifically on what is known about various interventions aimed at reducing firearms violence by restricting access, or implementing prevention programs, or implementing criminal justice interventions. These chapters focus largely on what is known about the effects of different interventions on criminal violence. Although suicide prevention rarely has been the basis for public support of the passage of specific gun laws, such laws could have unintended effects on suicide rates or unintended by-products. Thus, in addition to the recommendations related to firearms and crime below, the committee also recommends further studies of the link between firearms policy and suicide.
Firearms are bought and sold in markets, both formal and informal. To some observers this suggests that one method for reducing the burden of firearm injuries is to intervene in these markets so as to make it more expensive, inconvenient, or legally risky to obtain firearms for criminal use or suicide. Market-based interventions intended to reduce access to guns by criminals and other unqualified persons include taxes on weapons and ammunition, tough regulation of federal firearm licensees, limits on the number of firearms that can be purchased in a given time period, gun bans, gun buy-backs, and enforcement of laws against illegal gun buyers or sellers.
Because of the pervasiveness of guns and the variety of legal and illegal means of acquiring them, it is difficult to keep firearms from people barred by law from possessing them. The key question is substitution. In the absence of the pathways currently used for gun acquisition, could individuals have obtained alternative weapons with which they could have wrought equivalent harm? Substitution can occur in many dimensions: offenders can obtain different guns, they can get them from different places, and they can get them at different times.
Arguments for and against a market-based approach are now largely based on speculation, not on evidence from research. It is simply not known whether it is actually possible to shut down illegal pipelines of guns to criminals nor the costs of doing so. Answering these questions is essential to knowing whether access restrictions are a possible public policy. The committee has not attempted to identify specific interventions, research strategies, or data that might be suited to studying market interventions, substitu-