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GunsWhy is there so little research on guns in the U.S.? 5 questions answered

By Lacey Wallace

Published 19 October 2017

Like other recent mass shootings, the events in Las Vegas were quickly followed by demands for change to gun control policy. But which policy do we choose? Following the Las Vegas shooting, debate has focused on bump stocks, accessories that allow a semiautomatic weapon to fire more rapidly. Will restrictions on them help prevent another mass shooting? Is there a better policy option? Unfortunately, the research we need to answer these questions doesn’t exist – and part of the problem is that the federal government largely doesn’t support it. Without increased funding for gun research, it will be extremely difficult for researchers to provide accurate answers to the gun policy questions currently under debate.

Professor Lacey Wallace, PSU // Source: psu.edu

When Stephen Paddock opened fire 1 October on concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing 59, the city became the unfortunate host of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Investigators are still trying to piece together the events that took place that evening, and why. Like other recent mass shootings, the events in Las Vegas were quickly followed by demands for change to gun control policy.

But which policy do we choose? Following the Las Vegas shooting, debate has focused on bump stocks, accessories that allow a semiautomatic weapon to fire more rapidly. Will restrictions on them help prevent another mass shooting? Is there a better policy option?

Unfortunately, the research we need to answer these questions doesn’t exist – and part of the problem is that the federal government largely doesn’t support it.

Why do we need research about guns?
Gun violence is a public health issue. It’s a leading cause of premature death in the United States, killing more people each year than diseases like HIV, hypertension and viral hepatitis.

While violent crime has generally been on the decline since the mid-1990s, the latest reports from the FBI suggest crime rates may be starting to increase. Gun crime has been a persistent problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33,594 individuals were killed by firearms in 2014 alone. That’s only about 200 less than the number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents. In 2015, roughly 85,000 people were injured by firearms, including nearly 10,000 children.

In order to prevent gun injuries and deaths, we need accurate information about how they occur and why. While police reports and FBI data can provide some detail, they don’t include the thousands of cases that go unreported each year. Between 2006 and 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that more than a third of victims of crimes involving a firearm did not report the crime to police. The National Crime Victimization Survey, which collects victimization data from about 90,000 households each year, helps to fill in this gap. However, even this survey has its drawbacks. It doesn’t collect data from youth younger than 12, it doesn’t include murder and it doesn’t help us fully understand the offender’s motivations and beliefs.