News stories about the problem of gun violence in America have dominated media outlets across the country over the past year. The tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut continues to fuel an on-going debate about the laws surrounding violence and safety in our society. It’s a sensitive subject, and many people across the nation hold opposing viewpoints about what should be done. But one thing is clear: gun violence is a critical public health problem.
Here at EBL, we want to know what the evidence says about the best ways to keep people safe. So we were interested to find a new report from the U.S. Institute of Medicine and National Research Council about the evidence surrounding gun violence.
The report doesn’t offer solutions because, unfortunately, we don’t have enough evidence to know what works. Instead, the report proposes research priorities to improve our understanding of the public health aspects of gun-related violence.
“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,” said Alan Leshner, chair of the study committee and CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The government has taken similar approaches to address the problems of tobacco use, accidental poisoning, and motor vehicle fatalities – with significant success, he said.
The report concludes that significant progress can be achieved in three to five years through a research program that addresses five topics:
- The characteristics of gun violence, including the scope and motivation for obtaining, owning, and using a firearm, as well as the differences in violent gun use across the United States.
- Risk and protective factors to identify how young people access, possess, and carry guns, evaluate the effect of gun storage techniques on rates of suicide and unintentional injury, and improve the understanding of factors that influence firearm violence in specific high-risk locations.
- Prevention and intervention programs to help us understand the effectiveness of initiatives that target specific audiences including the possessor of the firearm, the victim, and environments that shape norms and behaviors surrounding firearm use.
- The study of gun safety technology to identify the impact of technologies designed to reduce firearm injury, examine consumer acceptance of safety technologies, and explore policy approaches to these technologies.
- The influence of video games and media on gun use and safety.
We are thrilled to see the government taking an evidence-base approach to coping with this critical public health issue. And we look forward to reporting on outcomes of this research to help communities and policy makers better understand the best ways to address gun violence.