“Precious Little Data” On Gun Violence, Thanks To Congress’ Research Limits


Gun violence is far more of a mystery than most people realize, says The Atlantic. Evidence that could be used to develop effective laws that might decrease deaths and injuries from firearms is severely lacking. It's partly the result of longstanding restrictions on federally funded gun-violence research. In the mid-1990s, Congress declared that funding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shouldn't be used to advocate for gun control, and it blocked most funding for the study of gun violence at the agency. It wasn't an outright prohibition, but the action had a very real chilling effect on research. “It's actually kind of appalling,” said Prof. Sherry Towers of Arizona State University who has done research on mass shootings. “We're one of the richest nations in the world, and we aren't exactly forbidding scientists to look at this, but the federal government is strongly discouraging it.”

Many basic questions remain largely unanswered as a result. It's difficult to pin down the precise impact of laws that allow people to carry firearms openly. Do open-carry laws make gun violence worse, or do they cut down on firearm injuries and deaths? Researchers can't say with certainty. They also don't know much about the path that guns take to fall into the hands of criminals, or how gun laws impact firearm sales on the black market. The psychology of gun violence is not well understood. What motivates people to use guns to commit a crime or suicide, and what are the most effective ways to stop mass shootings, gun-related homicide, and suicide? It’s challenging to reach well-supported conclusions. “I think people assume that we have a lot more information than we really do when it comes to guns, and that's definitely not the case,” said Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins's Center for Gun Policy and Research. “We have precious little data.”

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