Ownership Data

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The inadequacy of data on gun ownership and use is among the most

critical barriers to better understanding of gun violence. Such data will not

by themselves solve all methodological problems. However, its almost complete

absence from the literature makes it extremely difficult to understand

the complex personality, social, and circumstantial factors that intervene

between a firearm and its use. Also difficult to understand is the effect, if

any, of programs designed to reduce the likelihood that a firearm will cause

unjustified harm, or to investigate the effectiveness of firearm use in selfdefense.

We realize that many people have deeply held concerns about

expanding the government’s knowledge of who owns guns and what type

of guns they own. We also recognize the argument that some people may

refuse to supply such information in any system, especially those who are

most likely to use guns illegally. The committee recommends a research

effort to determine whether or not these kinds of data can be accurately

collected with minimal risk to legitimate privacy concerns.

A starting point is to assess the potential of ongoing surveys. For example,

efforts should be undertaken to assess whether tracing a larger

fraction of guns used in crimes, regularly including questions on gun access

and use in surveys and longitudinal studies (as is done in data from the

ongoing, yearly Monitoring the Future survey), or enhancing existing items

pertaining to gun ownership in ongoing national surveys may provide useful

research data. To do this, researchers need access to the data. The

committee recommends that appropriate access be given to data maintained

by regulatory and law enforcement agencies, including the trace data

maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; registration

data maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state agencies;

and manufacturing and sales data for research purposes.

In addition, researchers need appropriate access to the panel data from

the Monitoring the Future survey. These data may or may not be useful for

understanding firearms markets and the role of firearms in crime and violence.

However, without access to these systems, researchers are unable to

assess their potential for providing insight into some of the most important

firearms policy and research questions. Concerns about security and privacy

must be addressed in the granting of greater access to these data, and

the systems will need to be continually improved to make them more useful

for research. Nevertheless, there is a long-established tradition of making

sensitive data available with appropriate safeguards to researchers.

Methodological Approaches

Difficult methodological issues exist regarding how different data sets

might be used to credibly answer the complex causal questions of interest.

The committee recommends that a methodological research program be established

to address these problems. The design for data collection and analysis

should be selected in light of particular research questions. For example,

how, if at all, could improvements in current data, such as firearms trace

data, be used in studies of the effects of policy interventions on firearms

markets or any other policy issue? What would the desired improvements

contribute to research on policy interventions for reducing firearms violence?

Linking the research and data questions will help define the data that are

needed. We recommend that the results of such research be regularly reported

in the scientific literature and in forums accessible to investigators.