Academic Research on Gun Violence
To gain an understanding of the scope of gun violence and efficacy of gun violence prevention policies, we rely on peer-reviewed academic research published in medical and academic journals.
However, research on the subject is relatively limited, especially when compared to research into other causes of injury and death. The reason for this limitation is funding.
In 1996, congress approved the Dickey Amendment, a provision initially inserted as a rider into that year’s omnibus spending bill. The amendment mandated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.“ Congress earmarked $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget – the exact amount allocated the previous year for firearms research – for traumatic injury-related research.
Named for former Congressman Jay Dickey, the amendment was introduced after lobbying by the National Rifle Association in response to physician, epidemiologist, and professor Arther Kellerman’s 1993 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that guns in the home were associated with increased risk of homicide. Jay Dickey, who died in 2017, reversed his position became an advocate of repealing the ban on research.
“Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners, in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile. Scientific research should help answer how we can best reduce gun violence. It is my position that somehow or someway we should slowly but methodically fund such research until a solution is reached. Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution,” Dickey wrote in a letter to congress.
Despite the lack of federal financial support, researchers continue to study gun violence through grants from foundations and through their universities and hospitals. Their work undergoes peer-review and is published in reputable publications and journals. We track and organize much of this relevant research on our website.
It is important to distinguish between peer-reviewed, published research versus research that has not undergone peer scrutiny or that was not found to be worthy of publication. Much of the “research” used by the gun lobby to support their claims comes from a single researcher named John Lott who wrote a book called More Guns Less Crime in 1997. Lott’s research concluded that counties that permitted the concealed carrying of firearms had lower crime rates.
But not everyone was convinced. The National Research Council, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, convened a panel to study the effect of concealed-carry laws. Of the 16 panel members, 15 concluded that the existing research, including Lott’s, provided “no credible evidence” that right-to-carry laws had any effect on violent crime.
Two economists, John Donohue of Stanford University and Ian Ayres of Yale University, argued that Lott had drawn inaccurate correlations: Cities had experienced a spike in crime in the 80’s and 90’s not because of strict gun laws but largely as a result of the crack epidemic. Further, when they extended their survey by five years, they found that more guns were actually linked to more crime, with states deemed “right to carry” showing an eight percent increase in aggravated assault.
After reexamining Lott’s research, even researcher Gary Kleck, who had written the forward to Lott’s book, found serious flaws with Lott’s methodology and missing data. Of Lott’s work, he said, “It was garbage in and garbage out.”
As scrutiny of Lott’s work increased, Lott created an internet persona named Mary Rosh who, claiming to be a former student of Lott, praised his work and defended his research. Eventually, it was discovered that Miss Rosh and Lott shared an IP address. Lott admitted to creating the persona.
However, Lott’s work continues to be used by the gun lobby. Lott and his research are referenced well over a hundred times on the NRA Institute for Legislative Action website. Lott is brought in to testify as an “expert witness” in statehouses across the country, including Tennessee.
Lott’s work has largely been discredited by his peers after questions about his methodology were raised and when he was incapable of replicating his findings. Additionally, it was discovered that Lott used a fake internet persona named “Mary Rosh” to defend his research.