The comprehensive scientific approach that has been fully implemented to address motor vehicle injuries is, by comparison, only a fledgling effort with regard to firearm injuries. Over the long term, an effective national policy directed at reducing the risk and severity of firearm-related injury requires a strong federal presence. The multipronged approach used to develop federal motor vehicle safety policy—surveillance, regulatory action, multidisciplinary research, support for state and local prevention initiatives, and public support—provides a useful model. The following section describes progress to date and focuses on future opportunities.
A number of national surveillance systems provide some data on firearm injuries (see Chapter 3 for additional information); however, there is no national surveillance system that provides detailed information on specific products and incidents—data that are needed to develop effective interventions to prevent and reduce firearm injuries.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) System is a voluntary system based on reports from law enforcement agencies. The Supplementary Homicide Report to the UCR System collects information on homicide incidents. Since 1973, the National Institute of Justice has conducted an annual National Crime Victimization Survey, in which cohorts of individuals ages 12 and older are queried semiannually about their experiences related to crime, including crimes involving guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms' (ATF) Project LEAD (Law Enforcement Agency Data) includes an automated system that collects information gathered during traces of crime-related firearms. The Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC's) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS)—a sample of emergency room admissions—routinely includes information on nonpowder firearm injuries. A recent study performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used NEISS to estimate all nonfatal firearm injuries in the United States (Annest et al., 1995). Vital statistics data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics include information on suicide and unintentional injury as well as homicide deaths related to firearms (Fingerhut et al., 1992). In 1994, NCIPC funded seven state health departments to support the development, implementation, and evaluation of state-based firearm injury surveillance systems. These programs were three-year cooperative agreements with funding ending in 1997.
Although these systems do provide some data, more complete surveillance systems are needed to monitor firearm injuries over time, to add detail that can guide prevention efforts, and to assess the effectiveness of interventions. The data collected should include geographic, sociodemographic, and product-specific information in addition to information on key causal sequence factors