There is hardly a more contentious issue in American politics than the ownership of guns and various proposals for gun control. Each year tens of thousands of people are injured and killed by firearms; each year firearms are used to defend against and deter an unknown number of acts of violence; and each year firearms are widely used for recreational purposes. For public authorities to make reasonable policies on these matters, they must take into account conflicting constitutional claims and divided public opinion as well as facts about the relationship between guns and violence. And in doing so they must try to strike what they regard as a reasonable balance between the costs and the benefits of private gun ownership.
Adequate data and research are essential to judge both the effects of firearms on violence and the effects of different violence control policies. Those judgments are key to many important policy questions, among them: Should regulations restrict who may possess and carry a firearm? Should regulations differ for different types of firearms? Should purchases be delayed and, if so, for how long and under what circumstances? Should restrictions be placed on the number or types of firearms that can be purchased? Should safety locks be required? While there is a large body of empirical research on firearms and violence, there is little consensus on even the basic facts about these important policy issues.
Given the importance of these issues and the continued controversy surrounding the debate on firearms, the Committee to Improve Research Information and Data on Firearms was charged with providing an assessment of the strengths and limitations of the existing research and data on gun violence and identifying important gaps in knowledge; describing new methods to put research findings and data together to support the design and implementation of improved prevention, intervention, and control strategies for reducing gun-related crime, suicide, and accidental fatalities; and utilizing existing data and research on firearms and firearm violence to develop models of illegal firearms markets. The charge also called for examining the complex ways in which firearm violence may become embedded in community life and considering whether firearm-related homicide and suicide have become accepted as ways of resolving problems, especially among youth. However, there is a lack of empirical research to address these two issues.