For the first time in more than 20 years, the federal government is making a sizeable commitment in gun violence research. The $1.4 trillion 2020 budget includes $25 million in research funding split between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
It’s a major shift, but it’s not enough. Two decades of underfunding have left research on gun violence prevention far behind research on other causes of death in the United States, even as concerns about gun violence have risen.
Guns kill nearly 40,000 people in the United States every year and injure another 115,000. They are more lethal than knives, poison, nooses, and fists. By targeting gun violence for research rather than other weapons and tools, we can help prevent larger numbers of deaths and injuries.
The State of United States Gun Research
In 2018, RAND Corporation’s Gun Policy in America initiative released one of the largest studies ever conducted of U.S. gun policy at the state level. The overarching finding: We have little rigorous evidence on the effects of common gun policies.
Other research showed that, between 1991 and 2010, the volume of research publications on gun mortality was less than 5 percent of what would be expected compared with publication volumes for other leading causes of mortality. In addition:
- The data and research infrastructure for gun violence prevention research is weak.
- There’s virtually no research examining the effects of gun policies on officer-involved shootings, defensive gun use, hunting and recreation, and the gun industry.
- Data that could help shed light on the effects of gun policies are often either not collected or not shared.
Most states lack even basic information about gun use, access to guns used to commit crimes, gun markets, prosecution of gun crime, and other data that could improve understanding of the causes and prevention of gun violence.
Informing Effective Policy
In the absence of research, policy decisions have been driven by anecdotes and entrenched positions either for or against gun control. To create policies that will save lives and reduce injuries while protecting gun owners’ rights and interests, we need to grow the evidence base regarding what causes gun violence and how to prevent it.
Answers to critical policy questions require national data collection over many years, a concerted research program of basic and descriptive research on gun use and violence, and applied policy research. Without high-quality, non-partisan research, policymakers and the public will continue to disagree on how best to prevent gun violence. Research can provide the answers needed to create effective policies and programming to reduce gun violence.
It is time to re-build the gun research pipeline and support a more expansive and diverse gun research enterprise to inform policymaking.
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