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For more than 20 years, the federal government did not fund research into gun violence in the U.S. In 2018, that prohibition was lifted. There is a lot of catchup work to do.
The gut-wrenching number of mass shootings in America highlight the need to better understand gun violence, and, more important, what works to prevent it. This information can inform the development and implementation of better policies to address gun violence.
Because of the lack of federal funding, gun violence is the least researched cause of death in America, according to analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. If funding were based on the number of firearms-related deaths, gun research should have received $1.4 billion between 2004 and 2015. In reality, the researchers found only $22 million spent on gun research, mostly by groups not funded by federal agencies. During that time roughly the same number of people died of sepsis and gun violence, but gun violence received less than one percent as much funding for research as sepsis.
“Gun violence had less funding and fewer publications than comparable injury-related causes of death including motor vehicle accidents and poisonings. Given that gun violence disproportionately affects the young and inflicts many more nonfatal injuries than deaths, it is likely that the true magnitude of research funding disparity, when considering years of potential life lost or lived with disability, is even greater,” the researchers wrote.
Because of the dearth of research, there is a lot we don’t know. But, what we do know is that addressing gun violence will take a number of different approaches. As gun-related research ramps up, focusing on critical information gaps is essential.
For example, much attention has focused in recent weeks on mass shootings. These are horrific events, especially those at schools, that need to be examined.
However, the predominant form of deadly gun violence in America is suicide. More than half of gun deaths are due to suicide. In Maine, it is a staggering 88 percent.
Knowing what works to reduce gun-related suicides is essential. And, while there is likely overlap with reducing gun deaths in general – making quick access to guns more difficult and increasing access to mental health services – focused research can help pinpoint specific solutions to our suicide crisis. This is especially important to our veterans, who are dying by suicide at alarming rates, and teenagers, an age group that has seen a troubling rise in suicides in recent years.
Likewise, women face a high risk of violence and death by an abusive partner with a gun. Again, restricting access to guns is likely part of the solution to this problem, but there are other areas that need more attention, such as the enforcement of protection from abuse orders and interventions and support for women seeking to leave abusive relationships.
“Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections,” Leah Libresco, a statistician and former newswriter at FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism site, wrote in a 2017 column published by the Bangor Daily News.
Now that federal agencies are funding and doing research into gun violence, there is a lot of catchup work to do. Understanding that the solutions to the varying forms of gun violence may be different (with some clear areas of overlap) can help that work be more targeted and effective.