Firearms and Mortality Study: More Questions, Less Answers
(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) - In an invited commentary, Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, discusses important limitations of a new firearms and crime study linking firearms laws with lower firearm-related deaths.
The research on firearm violence laws and firearm-related mortality rates was conducted by Eric Fleegler of Boston Children's Hospital. Both the study and the UC Davis commentary are published online today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine and will appear in journal's May print edition.
"The main finding is that having more laws on the books is associated with having lower rates of firearm-related homicide and suicide," Wintemute wrote in his commentary. "This would be an important finding - if it were robust and if its meaning were clear. Ecological studies of association are inherently weak, however, and correlation does not imply causation."
"In the end, Fleegler and colleagues provide no firm guidance and leave us with more questions than answers. Do the laws work, and if so, which ones? Should policymakers enact the entire package, or just some of the measures?" he said.
Wintemute believes that to prevent firearm violence, research must be substantial and sustained and physician engagement in developing that effort is particularly important. He also believes that some projects should have direct relevance to policy-based and other potential interventions while others should deepen basic understanding of the gun violence problem.
"Better data and data systems are needed," Wintemute said. "Interventions must be evaluated, and those evaluations must help guide further efforts. Until we revitalize firearm violence research, studies using available data will be the best we have - and they will continue to be inadequate."
The UC Davis Violence Prevention Research program is funded with grants from the California Wellness Foundation and the Joyce Foundation.
The Violence Prevention Research Program is an organized research program of the University of California, Davis. Our work addresses the causes, nature and prevention of violence. Our current major areas of emphasis are the prediction of criminal behavior, the effectiveness of waiting period/background check programs for prospective purchasers of firearms, and the determinants of firearm violence. Our mission is to conduct research that will further America's efforts to understand and prevent violence.