MAJOR CONCLUSIONS

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Empirical research on firearms and violence has resulted in important

findings that can inform policy decisions. In particular, a wealth of descriptive

information exists about the prevalence of firearm-related injuries and

deaths, about firearms markets, and about the relationships between rates of

gun ownership and violence. Research has found, for example, that higher

rates of household firearms ownership are associated with higher rates of gun

suicide, that illegal diversions from legitimate commerce are important sources

of crime guns and guns used in suicide, that firearms are used defensively

many times per day, and that some types of targeted police interventions may

effectively lower gun crime and violence. This information is a vital starting

point for any constructive dialogue about how to address the problem of

firearms and violence.

While much has been learned, much remains to be done, and this report

necessarily focuses on the important unknowns in this field of study. The

committee found that answers to some of the most pressing questions cannot

be addressed with existing data and research methods, however well designed.

For example, despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible

evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent

crime, and there is almost no empirical evidence that the more than 80 prevention

programs focused on gun-related violence have had any effect on children’s

behavior, knowledge, attitudes, or beliefs about firearms. The committee found

that the data available on these questions are too weak to support unambiguous

conclusions or strong policy statements.

Drawing causal inferences is always complicated and, in the behavioral

and social sciences, fraught with uncertainty. Some of the problems that the

committee identifies are common to all social science research. In the case

of firearms research, however, the committee found that even in areas in

which the data are potentially useful, the complex methodological probEXECUTIVE

lems inherent in unraveling causal relationships between firearms policy

and violence have not been fully considered or adequately addressed.

Nevertheless, many of the shortcomings described in this report stem

from the lack of reliable data itself rather than the weakness of methods. In

some instances—firearms violence prevention, for example—there are no

data at all. Even the best methods cannot overcome inadequate data and,

because the lack of relevant data colors much of the literature in this field,

it also colors the committee’s assessment of that literature.