New Report Identifies Research Priorities for Most Pressing Gun Violence Problems in U.S.

The characteristics of gun violence, risk and protective factors, prevention, gun safety technology, and the influence of video games were identified as key research priorities by a committee of the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, chaired by AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner.

“The complexity and frequency of gun-related violence combined with its impact on the health and safety of the nation’s residents make it a topic of considerable public health importance,” Leshner said.

“Therefore, when developing its agenda, the committee took a public health approach that focused on gun violence problems associated with significant levels of injuries and fatalities. Although this research agenda is an initial, not all-encompassing set of questions, it could help better define the causes and prevention of firearm violence in order to develop effective policies to reduce its occurrence and impact in the U.S. Similar approaches to public health problems have produced successes in lowering tobacco use, accidental poisoning, and motor vehicle fatalities.”

The report stems from executive orders issued by President Obama in January 2013 directing federal agencies to improve knowledge of the causes of firearm violence, interventions that might prevent it, and strategies to minimize its public health burden. One of these executive orders charged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with identifying the most pressing firearm-related violence research needs. In turn, CDC and the CDC Foundation asked the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council to recommend a research agenda on the public health aspects of firearm-related violence. The committee determined potential research topics by surveying previous relevant research, receiving public input, and using expert judgment. It was not asked to consider the amount and sources of funding required to carry out the research agenda and did not specify the methodologies that should be used to address the topics.

The committee said this public health research agenda should be integrated with research conducted from criminal justice and other perspectives to provide a much fuller knowledge base, as no single agency or research strategy could provide all the answers. It suggested that significant progress can be achieved in three to five years through a research program that addresses the five high-priority areas. Within these five areas, the committee identified the following key research topics:

  • Characteristics of gun violence
    • Characterize the scope of and motivations for gun acquisition, ownership, and use and how they are distributed across subpopulations.
    • Characterize differences in nonfatal and fatal gun use across the U.S.
  • Risk and protective factors
    • Identify factors associated with youth having access to, possessing, and carrying guns.
    • Evaluate the potential risks and benefits of having a firearm in the home under a variety of circumstances and settings.
    • Improve understanding of risk factors that influence the probability of firearm violence in specific high-risk physical locations.
  • Firearm violence prevention and other interventions
    • Improve understanding of whether interventions intended to diminish the illegal carrying of firearms reduce firearm violence.
    • Improve understanding of whether reducing criminal access to legally purchased guns reduces firearm violence.
    • Improve understanding of the effectiveness of actions directed at preventing access to firearms by violence-prone individuals.
    • Determine the degree to which various childhood education or prevention programs reduce firearm violence in childhood and later in life.
    • Explore whether programs to alter physical environments in high-crime areas decrease firearm violence.
  • Gun safety technology
    • Identify the effects of different technological approaches to reduce firearm-related injury and death.
    • Examine past consumer experiences with accepting safety technologies to inform the development and uptake of new gun safety technologies.
    • Explore individual state and international policy approaches to gun safety technology for applicability to the United States as a whole.
  • Influence of video games and other media
    • Examine the relationship between exposure to media violence and real-life violence.

The study was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the Foundation’s support originating from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The California Endowment, The Joyce Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, one anonymous entity, and two additional donors whose agreements have not been finalized with the CDC Foundation. Established under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council provide independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, the private sector, and the public. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. A committee roster is available.

[Adapted from a news release from the National Academies]

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