Expert Panel Offers Ideas for U.S. Gun Violence Research
After getting the cold shoulder from the federal government for 17 years, U.S. scientists who study the public health impact of gun-related violence are finally getting a warm embrace. A report issued today by the National Research Council (NRC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) lays out a national strategy for firearms research that identifies more than a dozen possible topics.
The report comes 5 months after President Barack Obama announced an end to the ban on public health research on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that had been in place since 1996. The White House also asked NRC and IOM to organize a blue ribbon committee of firearms experts, criminologists, and public health scientists, which was charged with surveying the existing literature and coming up with recommendations for future research.
One key need, it says, is simply more and better information on how many guns are in the United States and how often they cause death or injury. “The problem is there just aren’t any data,” committee Chair Alan Leshner told ScienceInsider in a telephone interview. (Leshner is CEO of AAAS, publisher of ScienceInsider.) “Others on the committee may not have been surprised, but I was.”
The best available estimates put firearm-related deaths in the United States at more than 30,000 per year, with twice as many nonfatal injuries. That is the highest rate among industrialized nations. But details about the circumstances of the deaths and injuries, let alone their causes, are often lacking. And the number of guns across the country—both legally and illegally owned—is simply unknown. Political lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association have vigorously fought to prevent such data from being collected by the federal government.