Conclusions

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In general, we find that the scientific bases for understanding the impact

of different technologies on the rates of injury is sorely lacking. The

existing research outlines a number of interesting hypotheses, but, in the

end, the extent to which different technologies affect injury remains unknown.

We should note that this conclusion stands in contrast to a recently

released report from the Institute of Medicine (2002). In particular, the

report, Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative, recommends safety devices

as an effective means of reducing injury associated with firearms.

While this recommendation may (or may not) be justified for many reasons,

we found no credible scientific evidence in the Institute of Medicine’s report

or elsewhere that demonstrates whether safety devices can effectively lower

injury. Rather, the lack of research on this potentially important intervention

is a major shortcoming in the body of knowledge on firearms. Without

a much stronger research base, the benefits and harms of technology remain

largely unknown.

Thus, the committee recommends that a sustained body of empirical

research be developed to study the effects of different safety technologies on

violence and crime. There are many obstacles to answering the key empirical

questions, not the least of which is the lack of detailed individual-level

data on firearms ownership, the use of safety devices and firearms, and the

outcomes of interest that, in the case of accidents, are especially rare. Without

better individual-level data, researchers will continue to be forced to

rely on aggregated data that are subject to many different interpretations

and strong assumptions that are rarely justified. Researchers may exploit

the fact that many of these technologies have been used for over a century

and, more recently, have been widely disseminated. Well-designed experimental

evaluations that subsidize technologies in different locales may be

an alternative approach to reveal the demand for these technologies as well

as their effects on crime and violence.