Updated March 8, 2018: On February 14, 2018, 17 people were killed and 16 more were wounded in an active shooting incident at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the wake of this shooting, the New York Times posted an article: Gunfire Erupts at a School. Leaders Offer Prayers. Children Are Buried. Repeat.
In October 2017, 58 people were killed in a mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada, the largest death toll to-date. Thirty-five days after the shooting in Las Vegas, on November 5, 2017, 26 people were killed in a mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The terrorist attack on June 12, 2016 at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, is the largest mass shooting in the United States to-date. It has inspired both touching tributes and an ongoing filibuster. The shooting happened just days after a video of President Obama answering a question about gun rights went viral. In the video, Obama explains that known Islamic State sympathizers cannot have their access to guns restricted, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not allowed by Congress to study gun violence.
This ban on gun violence research began in 1996, and despite an executive order from President Obama in 2013 intended to rectify the state of gun violence research, CDC funding for this purpose remains limited. The federal funding freeze on gun violence research has already been reported on many times: read a quick summary of the history here, and a detailed chronology here.
As a scientist, a ban on studying anything is appalling. In the spirit of open access to knowledge for all, here are some resources to equip you with the facts we do have about gun violence.
First, here is a roundup of some previous PLOS Blog posts published on the topic. They are filled with links to many primary sources of data relevant to gun violence:
Public Health or Politics? (June 14, 2016): A reaction to the Orlando shooting, explaining the history of the ban on CDC research on gun violence.
Bullet Points: This article has no waiting period (June 24, 2014): A discussion of the politics blocking the acquisition of quality data on gun violence, with a call to action for cooperation to create change.
The Gun Violence Epidemic (July 25, 2013): Why treating gun violence similarly to an infectious disease epidemic could be effective.
Why Mental Illness-Focused Gun Control May Be More Harmful Than Helpful (July 31, 2013): An exploration of why targeting mental illness to get at gun violence can be harmful.
Gun Control, Woopty Doo! (March 22, 2013): A Daily Show feature following the failure of a bill to strengthen background checks prompts an examination of the facts behind Australia’s gun control laws.
Newtown and Violence: No Easy Answers (December 17, 2012): A discussion of the complex issues at hand after the 2012 Newtown shooting.
Inside the Minds of Mass Killers (July 24, 2012): An interview with a forensic psychologist sheds light on motivations of mass killers.
Some common themes emerge from this retrospective look at these blog posts. Namely, Australia’s successful reduction of mass shootings is often cited as a model for the United States. We also see many of these authors reference the ban on gun violence research and a call for an end to the contentious politics surrounding government funding for this research. Many posts encouraged scientists seek alternative sources of funding for gun violence research — because without the promise of reliable funding, few scientists risk setting up research in this area.
Next, here are some articles from other outlets which are data-rich and well-researched:
Gun Violence ‘A Public Health Crisis,’ American Medical Association Says (June 14, 2016): NPR examines gun violence as a public health issue, and quotes the creator of the bill which resulted in the ban on research by the CDC.
A huge international study of gun control finds strong evidence that it actually works (June 13, 2016): Vox reports on a recent meta-analysis examining global studies on gun control.
Visualizing gun deaths: Comparing the U.S. to rest of the world (June 13, 2016): The Humanosphere blog creates striking visualizations of data on gun violence globally.
America’s gun problem, explained (June 12, 2016): Vox Explainer shows how gun violence is a uniquely American problem (this article was originally posted in 2015 but was updated to reflect current numbers).
There are just a few quick takes from data-driven blogs, and I encourage readers to comment with others they find useful (h/t to the Global Health NOW newsletter for some of these).
Finally, I’d like to link to some primary open access literature which may or may not have been cited in these various blog posts. To start, here are the most relevant titles that turn up from the PLOS.org when you search for ‘gun violence’:
Contagion in Mass Killings and School Shootings (July 2, 2015) PLOS ONE.
Gun Possession among American Youth: A Discovery-Based Approach to Understand Gun Violence (November 5, 2014) PLOS ONE.
Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions (October 31, 2013) PLOS ONE.
Dependence of the Firearm-Related Homicide Rate on Gun Availability: A Mathematical Analysis (July 26, 2013) PLOS ONE.
And here are some results that caught my eye when searching PubMed for articles on ‘gun violence’ and ‘mass shootings,’ followed by a filter for ‘free full text’ and sorted by relevance. Our hope is that these articles are open access, but if they are subscription-based please let us know. Some of the articles that come up in these searches are the PLOS pieces above.
Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide: bringing epidemiological research to policy (May 2015) Annals of Epidemiology.
Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms (February 2015) American Journal of Public Health.
Does the declining lethality of gunshot injuries mask a rising epidemic of gun violence in the United States? (July 2014) Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Support for a comprehensive background check requirement and expanded denial criteria for firearm transfers: findings from the firearms licensee survey (April 2014) Journal of Urban Health.
News Media Framing of Serious Mental Illness and Gun Violence in the United States, 1997-2012 (March 2014) American Journal of Public Health.
The shootings in Oslo and Utøya island July 22, 2011: Lessons for the International EMS community (December 2011) Scandanavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation, and Emergency Medicine.
Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings (November 2006) Injury Prevention.
These are just a few examples of the blog posts and literature available to the public for free. I urge everyone, regardless of your opinion on gun control, to arm yourself with the information that does exist while also pushing for more public health research on gun violence. You can make your own search of PubMed here; try different search terms and play around with how the results are sorted to find articles I haven’t included here. Seek blog posts and news articles that are backed up by links to data, rather than just opinion. Compare articles from left- and right-leaning sources, or try to stick to non-partisan outlets. Only through careful research of the status quo can we prevent a ‘next time’ in a way that satisfies responsible gun-owners and gun-opponents alike.