Timeliness

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One remarkable feature of all existing data sources on firearms violence

is their lack of timeliness. Other social indicators, particularly those

measuring economic activity and performance, are available on a quarterly

or monthly basis. By contrast, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers

concerned with violent injury and death must contend with data that

are infrequently collected and made available at least a year or more after

they have been collected. The result is that nearly all studies of firearms

violence are, in a real sense, historical in nature. Lack of timeliness in the

availability of data is not a problem for investigating behavioral phenomena

that change slowly over time, but the risk of firearms violence in the

United States is not necessarily such a phenomenon. For example, rates of

firearms violence, especially among youth, rose very rapidly to unprecedented

levels during the early 1990s, only to peak and turn downward

just as rapidly over the next few years. The popular characterization of

those changes as an epidemic was not a misnomer, at least with respect to

the speed with which they took place. Needless-to-say, monitoring such

rapid and abrupt changes requires timely information.

Technical barriers no longer stand in the way of the timely collection, coding,

and dissemination of key indicators of firearms violence. Local law enforcement

agencies report data on a monthly basis to the FBI on serious assaults,

robberies, and homicides by weapon type. Emergency departments and hospitals

collect information on violent injuries and death just as frequently. Electronic

data entry, coding, and checking have greatly reduced the time required to

compile data on firearms violence, and the Internet permits nearly instantaneous

dissemination both to special access users and broader audiences.

To better monitor trends in firearms and violence, the committee thinks

that an important implementation objective of emerging data sets, such as

the NIBRS and the NVDRS, should be dissemination of data on firearms

violence on a quarterly basis. In addition, monitoring capabilities might be

greatly improved if firearm-related behaviors could be added to any proposed

revision of the ADAM survey, perhaps on a rotating schedule with

the more detailed questions on drug use, and disseminated regularly.