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New Focus on Need for Gun Violence Research

Editorials Highlight Lack of Funding and Weak Data Infrastructure

The need for more funding and improved data infrastructure for gun violence prevention research has been highlighted by major scientific journals, with recent editorials in Science, Nature, and JAMA.

The articles highlighted the advances made in recent years as additional federal funding has been invested in research into gun violence, but urged that further improvement is needed to make up for decades of under-funding.

In JAMA, collaborative director Andrew Morral and RAND economist Rosanna Smart described the new era for violence research, with recent federal and private funding supporting a surge in research. But they note that many gun policies have not been studied well, or at all, and that a weak data infrastructure is an ongoing obstacle:

“Currently, the federal government does not collect or maintain time-series data on nonfatal firearm injuries at the state level, nor provide estimates of state gun ownership. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System collects data on risk behaviors, such as seatbelt use and consumption of fruit juice, but its core module has not inquired about gun access in more than 15 years.”

Chethan Sathya, Fatimah Loren Dreier, and Megan L. Ranney, writing in Nature, called for a public-health approach to “establish the knowledge and know-how needed to reduce suffering”.

Noting that firearm injury is among the least research and worst funded of the leading causes of death in the United States, they outline strategies to meet the need for evidence. These include a comprehensive data collection effort, effectively evaluating interventions, taking a cross-disciplinary approach, and building research institutions.

“Given the prevalence of firearm injury and death in the United States, it is astounding that scientific understanding of the problem is so poor and that the research infrastructure and workforce are so underdeveloped. As further funding emerges, it is crucial to build a field that honours the magnitude of the problem and builds up the collaborations and innovations necessary to save lives and create a more equitable society.”

In Science, an editorial also by Morral and Smart described improvements in Federal and state data collection needed to make the most of recent investments in firearm violence prevention research.

Such research has been hampered by poor data collection, including laws which prohibit the federal government from making data available for research.

“If the United States is serious about fixing the escalating problem of firearm violence, the government needs to measure it. Research on gun violence that is supported by new funding is overdue but will be handicapped until federal and state firearm violence data systems improve.”

Read the editorials:

A New Era for Firearm Violence Prevention Research, JAMA »
To Prevent Gun Injury, Build Better Research, Nature »
Better Data, Less Gun Violence, Science »