One area needing further research involves developing a more in-depth surveillance data system around firearm injury and mortality.
“You need to understand what’s happening in terms of what are the circumstances around injuries, what are the rates of nonfatal injury, and where are they happening,” said Dr. Eileen Bulger, chair of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma. “From the research side, obviously there are huge gaps.”
Bulger envisioned a national commitment toward researching gun violence that would resemble the work that’s been conducted since the 1960s to address motor vehicle fatalities. In 1966, Congress passed legislation that set new safety regulations for motor vehicles and roads that eventually led to a stark decline in deaths, cutting the rate of mortality by 54% from 1972 to 2017, according to figures from the National Safety Council.
The laws that led to such progress began as a public health initiative, one that first identified the various underlying factors involved in crashes, from driver behavior to the design of both the car and the roads.
Bulger said similar progress could be achieved in addressing gun violence, but it would take substantially more funding than has ever been made available before, with estimates of around $50 million a year to start.
By contrast, a 2017 study published in JAMA found an estimated sum total of $22 million was spent on gun violence research between 2004 and 2015, with 1,738 research publications written over that period, compared with the hundreds of thousands of publications on liver disease, heart disease and diabetes produced over the same period.
Study authors estimated that the amount spent on gun violence research over the years was 1.6% of the total funding expected to have been committed to address a leading cause of death of similar magnitude. In 2016 more than 38,000 people died from firearm-related injuries.
Firearm deaths are currently tracked by the FBI through its Uniform Crime Reporting Program, as well as by the CDC through the National Violent Death Reporting System. But many feel that reporting system does not contain enough data since up until last year the system only provided information from 40 states. Also, the system does not include data on nonfatal shooting injuries and does not have the ability to trace the origins of guns used in violent incidents. Bulger said having such additional surveillance data would provide a fuller picture of the problem’s scope.
“Really trying to understand the epidemiology is important,” Bulger said.