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Why Isn’t There More Research About Gun Violence?

Why isn’t there more government-funded research about gun deaths in the U.S.?

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Compared to other wealthy nations around the world, the rate of gun deaths in the U.S. is pretty off the charts. So why isn’t there more government-funded research about the problem, the way there is for other major public health crises? It all comes down to politics.

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As political issues go, gun control is definitely a doozie. Few topics get Americans as riled up. But no matter where you stand, most of us can at least agree on this: that gun violence claims the lives of too many innocent people in this country, and actions should be taken to reduce the number of people killed.

What those actions should be, though, is where things get murky. Gun rights advocates argue that owning a gun is not only a fundamental constitutional right, it’s also essential for protection. The more armed, law-abiding citizens there are, the safer we’ll be. But those pushing for stricter gun control insist that more guns inevitably lead to more violence, and the best way to tackle the issue is by restricting access to firearms.

So what’s the answer? It is tougher gun laws? Is it arming more teachers? Part of the problem is there’s just not enough research on the issue to come up with definitive solutions for how to most effectively deal the problem.

What do public health researchers want to know more about?

A lot! Public health researchers are interested in studying everything from where illegally-owned guns come to how to better prevent gun violence. They say that a better understanding of the issue will help save lives in the long run, much like it has with automobile fatalities.

So why aren’t they studying the issue?

Part of the problem is that there’s hardly any government funding to study the issue. Since 1996, Congress has essentially blocked agencies like the CDC from doing any substantive gun-related research, and that’s the result of intense lobbying efforts from major gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association.

Why don’t these groups want the CDC to research gun violence?

Gun rights groups argue that most public health researchers interested in studying the issue have a clear anti-gun agenda, and a track record of conducting biased studies to justify more restrictive gun laws that infringe on 2nd Amendment rights.

Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries

Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Mortality Stats

National Highway Safety Administration: Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Washington Post: Why Gun Violence Research Has Been Shut Down for 20 Years

Politico: Why We Can’t Trust the CDC with Gun Research

NPR: CDC Now Has Authority To Research Gun Violence. What’s Next?

Is American Violence a Crime Problem?

Politifact: More Americans killed by guns since 1968 than in all U.S. wars

Everytown for Gun Safety


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KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio, and web media. Funding for Above the Noise is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Silver Giving Foundation, Stuart Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.