In my post, Guess What Lobbying Group Stopped the U.S. from Finding Solutions to Firearms Violence, I reported that the NRA has taken credit for cutting firearms safety research by 96 percent since the mid-1990s. Since that post President Obama has issued executive orders for government agencies to conduct scientific research relating to firearms safety that isn’t strictly forbidden by Congress. ssional law.
What kind of research needs to be done? Emily Badger in The Atlantic offers some interesting research questions that might inform the public dialog:
1. How many guns are there? There is plenty of good data on the number of gun incidents per year at the city, state and national scales. But we don’t have a number for how many guns exist. Most current estimates peg the number nationally at about 300 million, but this is hardly a reliable count. We’d also be curious to know how gun figures differ by city and region.
2. How do guns get into the hands of people who use them to commit crimes? More specifically, do most criminals obtain those guns illegally? Through loopholes? Were the people who obtained them subjected to background checks? Also, many guns are used in more than one crime, explains Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia Law School, and often by more than one person. How do guns move through neighborhoods and social networks?
3. Who should be excluded from owning a gun? Media reports often make the assumption that the mentally ill in particular should be screened from gun access. But there is no real research, for instance, on the link between schizophrenia and the likelihood of committing gun violence.
4. Do magazine limits actually work? New York state passed a law just this week limiting the number of bullets legally allowed in a magazine to seven, and President Obama has proposed federal legislation setting that number at 10. Will such policies have an impact, particularly in the cases of incidents involving a lone, active shooter?
5. Why do people own guns? This seems like an obvious question, but we’d love to know more: For most people, is it a question of personal safety? Hunting? Politics? Are there policies we could implement that would reduce the need many people feel to keep firearms handy? Do people own guns in cities for different reasons than they own guns in rural areas?
6. Is there a relationship between levels of gun ownership and levels of crime? The NRA says we can only stop bad people with guns by deploying more good people with guns. But surely we could develop research to actually answer this question. Does gun violence generally rise as gun ownership does in a given community, or is the opposite true?
7. What percentage of the entire universe of gun owners commits gun crimes? We’re guessing this is a pretty small number, and that most moderate gun owners would like to have the answer out there in the public domain.
8. How are gun crimes and gun ownership spatially distributed? Within cities, do gun owners cluster? Why are some neighborhoods hotbeds for gun violence, and what distinguishes those places from others?
9. How do guns move from producer to consumer? Where are people legally buying guns? And how do guns leak into the black market? How many guns go missing and what are the implications?
Science can’t stop mass murders but it can play a role in making decisions based on evidence.