Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
December 16, 2004
Running Time: 00:33:27
Format: RealAudio (Requires free RealPlayer)
Current research and data on firearms, violent crime, and suicide are too weak to support strong conclusions about the effects of various violence-prevention, deterrence and control measures, says a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council. A comprehensive research program on firearms is needed as a basis for criminal-justice and public health policy.
Charles F. Wellford, Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice Director, Maryland Justice Analysis Center University of Maryland, College Park and Chair, Committee to Improve Research Information and Data on Firearms.
Below copied from link
Philip F. Lee
Fri, 17 Dec 2004 11:34:04 -0800
You can hear the press conference on the “Firearms and Violence: A
Critical Review” report and some Q & A’s from the link:
The actual realplayer audio of the press release is at:
The press release and link is at:
Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
National Research Council
Dec. 16, 2004
Charles F. Wellford
Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Director, Maryland Justice Analysis Center
University of Maryland, College Park
Chair, Committee to Improve Research Information and Data on Firearms
Good morning. On behalf of the National Academies’ National Research
Council and the Committee to Improve Research Information and Data on
Firearms, I would like to welcome everyone in the room and those
listening via our live audio webcast. I am pleased to be here today
with four of my fellow committee members to present the new report,
Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review.
The committee was broadly charged with providing an assessment of the
strengths and weaknesses of the existing social science data and
research on firearms. Although there is a large body of empirical
research on firearms and violence, there is little agreement on even
the basic facts regarding important policy issues related to firearms.
The committee’s report deals with what current research can and cannot
tell us about the role of firearms in violence. The report does not
address specific firearms policies, such as the issue of gun control.
Rather, its recommendations address how to improve the empirical
foundation for future discussions about firearms policy.
Over the past few decades, there have been many studies of the
relationship between violence and access to firearms; family and
community factors that influence lethal behavior; the extent and value
of defensive firearm use; the operation of legal and illegal gun
markets; and the effectiveness of efforts to reduce the harms from or
to increase the benefits associated with gun use. Our task was to
evaluate these studies and the data on which they are based. To be
sure, a number of research studies on firearms and violence have
resulted in findings that can inform policy decisions.
The committee’s major conclusion, however, is that the existing data
and research methods cannot answer some of the most pressing policy
issues in this area. Although there have been some well-designed
studies on policy issues, the underlying data and the methods used are
not strong enough to draw policy conclusions. For example:
The literature on “right-to-carry” laws has obtained conflicting
estimates of their effects on crime, despite the fact that data and
methods used in these studies differ in only minor ways. Thirty-four
states have enacted these laws, which allow qualified adults to carry
concealed handguns. However, we found no credible evidence that such
policies either decrease or increase violent crime.
There is no credible evidence that the more than 80 gun-violence
prevention programs reviewed by the committee have had any effect on
children’s or teens’ attitudes, knowledge, or behavior regarding
And although research does show associations between gun availability
and suicide with guns, that research does not show whether such
associations reflect actual cause and effect.
Should regulations restrict who may possess firearms? Should there be
restrictions on the number or types of guns that can be purchased?
Should safety locks be required? Answers to these questions involve
issues that go beyond research on firearm violence.
These policy questions cannot be informed by current studies. Available
data are too weak to support strong conclusions. Therefore, we believe
that one of the most pressing needs is to pursue the data and research
that are needed to fill knowledge gaps and, in turn, inform debate in
this important policy area. Our committee identified key approaches to
strengthen the research base on firearms and violence. We also believe
that the federal government should support a rigorous research program
in this area.
Research linking firearms to criminal violence and suicide is limited
by a lack of credible data on firearm ownership (including possession
and access) and individuals’ encounters with violence. The committee
found that the existing data on gun ownership and use are the biggest
barriers to better understanding gun violence. Without better data,
many basic questions cannot be answered. Such data will not solve all
problems of methodology. However, the almost complete absence of this
information from the scientific literature makes it extremely difficult
to understand the complex interpersonal, social, and other factors that
determine whether or not a firearm will be used to commit a violent act.
We realize that many people have deep concerns about expanding the
government’s data on gun ownership. We also recognize that some people
may refuse to supply this information, especially those who use guns
illegally. Yet scientists in other fields, such as drug use behavior,
have found more effective ways to collect individual data on sensitive
topics. We recommend that research be done to determine whether gun-
ownership data can be more accurately collected with minimal risk to
legitimate concerns regarding privacy and confidentiality.
Assessing the potential of ongoing national surveys to provide useful
data on firearms should be a starting point. For instance, our report
notes that questions about gun use and access could be added to or fine-
tuned in several ongoing federal surveys. For research purposes,
scientists also need appropriate access to federal and state data on
gun use, manufacturing, and sales.
Many Americans acquire firearms to defend themselves. Yet our
examination of the literature showed that research devoted to
understanding the defensive and deterrent effects of guns has yielded
mixed and sometimes widely different findings. In addition, the
accuracy of responses in gun-use surveys is a topic that has not been
thoroughly investigated. The committee calls for systematic research to
define what is being measured in studies of defensive and deterrent
effects of guns, to reduce reporting errors in national gun-use
surveys, and to explore ways that different data sets may be linked to
answer complex questions.
The committee looked at many interventions to reduce violence and
suicide. Here, I must emphasize that even if it were shown that
firearms clearly cause lethal violence, it would still be difficult to
develop successful programs to reduce this violence. That’s because
interventions would have to address other factors in addition to gun
use. The intent of the people involved, the nature of their
interactions and relationships, their access to firearms, and the level
of law enforcement are critical in explaining when and why firearm
violence occurs. Without attention to this complexity, it’s hard to
understand the role that firearms play in violence.
Firearms are bought and sold in formal markets such as gun shops, and
informal ones such as gun shows. Market-based interventions aimed at
limiting access to guns for certain groups, such as convicted felons or
juveniles, include restrictions on who can purchase guns and limits on
the number of firearms that can be purchased in a given period.
Arguments for and against these approaches are largely based on
speculation — not on scientific evidence. Data on gun markets are only
now beginning to emerge. We believe that greater attention should be
paid to research design and data needs regarding gun pipelines. More
studies also should be done on potential links between firearms
policies and suicide rates.
In America’s schools, programs to prevent gun violence are quite
common. But it’s difficult to say how these programs may affect injury
rates or violence in general. Few of the programs narrowly focused on
gun-violence prevention have been thoroughly evaluated. And some
studies suggest that these programs actually increase the appeal of
guns among young people, especially children. Trigger locks and other
gun-safety technologies also have been proposed as a way to prevent
injuries, yet how these technologies affect injury rates remains
unknown. We recommend that programs for prevention of gun violence
include evaluation components. Ongoing research is needed to study the
effects of different safety technologies on violence and crime, and to
build on successful, broader, school-based violence prevention efforts.
Available scientific evidence on how policing interventions and tougher
sentencing policies affect firearms violence is both limited and mixed,
but some results are encouraging. Police efforts to target guns and
young offenders, and sentencing enhancements for gun offenses, should
be further explored.
When it comes to the study of firearms and violence, data limitations
are simply immense at this time. That’s why our report, like several
other Research Council studies related to violence, calls for the
continued development of the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting
System and the National Incident-Based Reporting System that has been
initiated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. (These systems provide
basic data on crime and violence that are vital. The data they include
on firearms combined with these broader data on violent injury and
death could greatly advance research on violence and firearms.)
They would also inform politicians and other authorities, who aspire to
formulate public policy with a much better understanding of what is
known — and not known — about firearms and violence.
That concludes my opening statement. My colleagues on the committee and
I would be happy to answer questions from reporters in the room and
those listening on the Web. Please use one of the microphones to ask
your question or use the e-mail link on the National Academies’ Web
site. Be sure to first identify yourself by name and affiliation. Thank