Charleston, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Las Vegas. Or how about: Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Lawrence, KS

What happened in Las Vegas is tragic; the largest mass shooting in American’s history. So large that little if any attention has been paid to the shooting death of three young adults on the streets of generally peaceful Lawrence Kansas, just the day before.

The point is gun violence in America is all too common. There are about 32,000 gun deaths a year in the United States, approximately the same number as deaths from motor vehicle accidents. There are another 180,000 or so people injured by firearms annually in the country. These numbers far outstrip the consequences of firearms among our peer high-income countries, with stricter gun regulations.

Despite these high numbers, built mostly on individual shootings daily across the country, mass shootings like those in Las Vegas seem to get Americans talking. The papers, television news shows, radio talking heads and even a few politicians have taken to the airwaves calling for a solution to gun violence.

Most likely, again, nothing will become of it. What ails us? Why do we continue to accept these consequences of firearms when other countries do not?

We know a lot of the cause. There’s a gun culture fueled by historical concern with individual rights to gun ownership, and an effective pro-gun lobby that aggressively penalizes legislators who aim to introduce basic gun control regulations.

However, there’s one more factor very few Americans are aware of. We don’t have enough data on gun violence. There’s little if any substantial research on the impact changing gun laws can have on gun violence. That’s because in 1996 Congress placed in an Omnibus bill – at the urging of the NRA – a restriction that keeps the Federal government from spending money on research that might be used to advocate or promote gun control.

The 1996 vote was spurred by a 1993 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine about gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide. The research was funded by the Center for Disease Control. The National Rifle Association suggested that the agency was advocating for gun control and pushed Congress to put a stop to it.

Based on the 1996 wording, the CDC broadly interpreted this as a bar on firearms research, with other federal funders following suit. This has had a chilling effect on gun research.

Ironically, the author of the amendment on firearm research, Congressman Jay Dickey, has since recanted, noting correctly in 2012 that “We won’t know the cause of gun violence until we look for it.”

While gun violence is a public health problem, it is not studied the same way other public health problems are. For example, we do not know the influence of common substances such as alcohol on the risk of firearm homicide or suicide. We do not know the real costs of firearm violence, including physical, mental and community harms linked to firearms. And, centrally, we do not know the most effective policy levers that we can use to limit the gun violence epidemic simply because we have not done the research to understand the policy measures that can most effectively reduce or prevent gun violence.

This is precisely the kind of public health research that groups like the CDC and the National Institutes of Health fund for pressing public health problems, and could fund for firearm research.

Unfortunately a shortage of data creates space for speculation, conjecture and ill-informed arguments that threaten reasoned public discussion and progressive action on the issue.

The United States has had enormous success in responding to other challenges to public health, including, for example, motor vehicle safety, through gathering data that understands the challenge and implementing structural changes to mitigate the potential harm. On the issue of firearm violence, we are not even at the first step.

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