updated 12/16/2004 1:53:40 PM ET 2004-12-16T18:53:40

An analysis of efforts to control violence by restricting guns released Thursday concludes there is not enough evidence to reach valid conclusions about their effectiveness.

The National Research Council said that a major research program on firearms is needed.

“Policy questions related to gun ownership and proposals for gun control touch on some of the most contentious issues in American politics,” Charles Wellford, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said in a statement.

Among the major questions needing answers are whether there should be restrictions on who may possess firearms, on the number or types of guns that can be purchased, and whether safety locks should be required, said Wellford, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Maryland.

‘Gaps in the existing science’
“These and many related policy questions cannot be answered definitively because of large gaps in the existing science base,” he said. “The available data are too weak to support strong conclusions.”

Thirty-four states have “right to carry” laws that allow certain adults to carry concealed weapons. However, the report found no credible evidence that such laws either decrease or increase violent crime.

Citing another example, the report said there is almost no evidence that programs aimed at steering children away from guns have had any effect on their behavior, knowledge or attitudes toward firearms.

The report does not address gun policy itself, only the quality of available research data on firearm violence, control and prevention efforts.

Many studies linking guns to suicide and criminal violence produce conflicting conclusions, have statistical flaws and often do not show whether gun ownership results in certain outcomes, the report said.

A serious limit in such analyses is the lack of good data on who owns firearms and on individual encounters with violence, according to the study.

Gun data access for researchers urged
Research scientists need appropriate access to federal and state data on gun use, manufacturing and sales, the study urged.

There have been mixed and often divergent findings about whether owning firearms helps deter criminals.

The report noted that many schools have programs intended to prevent gun violence. However, it added, some studies suggest that children’s curiosity and teenagers’ attraction to risk make them resistant to the programs or that the projects actually increase the appeal of guns.

Few of these programs, the report concludes, have been adequately evaluated.

The report calls for the development of a National Violent Death Reporting System and a National Incident-Based Reporting System to begin collecting data.

The study by the Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Science, was sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Joyce Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

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