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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
sible to data users, and propose modifications to the data sources when needed.
Careful attention should be paid to ownership, and use data. As we demonstrate repeatedly in this report, the lack of credible data on gun ownership and limited understanding of the relationship between ownership and violence are among the most critical data barriers to better understanding firearm-related violence. Thus, the committee recommends a research effort to identify ways in which firearms acquisition, ownership, and use 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, longitudinal data from the Monitoring The Future survey, or enhancement of items pertaining to gun ownership in ongoing national surveys may provide useful research data.
To do this, researchers need access to the data. Thus, the committee recommends that appropriate access for research purposes be given to the Monitoring The Future survey, as well as to the data maintained by regulatory and law enforcement agencies, including the trace data maintained by BATF, registration data maintained by the FBI and state agencies, and manufacturing and sales data.13 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 other research questions. We realize that many have deeply held concerns about expanding the government’s knowledge of who owns what type of guns and how they are used. We also recognize the argument that some may refuse to supply such information, especially those who are most at risk to use guns illegally. More generally, we recognize that data on firearms ownership and violence have been the subject of great controversy. Nevertheless, there is a long established tradition of making sensitive data available to researchers. In light of these well-founded concerns, the committee strongly recommends that special care be taken to ensure the integrity of the data collection and dissemination process. Concerns over security and privacy must be addressed in the granting of greater access to the existing data and in creating new data on acquisition, ownership, and use.
Current law prohibits the FBI from retaining data from background checks. If these data were retained and provided in an individually identifiable form for research purposes, they might provide useful information on firearms markets and measures of known gun owners nationally. To determine the properties of these data, the FBI would need to retain the records and researchers would need access to test their utility for informing policy.