The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report entitled Personal Firearms: Programs that Promote Safe Storage and Research on Their Effectiveness that compiles information on public and non-profit programs promoting safe storage of personal firearms and the results of research on the effectiveness of such programs. The report was produced at the request of 19 Democratic senators, including Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). The report finds that “there is relatively little research on safe firearm storage,” and that “lack of funding and data” is often cited as a primary reason. According to the report, funding shortages and instability has limited the research on firearm safety and storage that could have been conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The report cites an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that compared available funding and publication volume for research on various leading causes of death and found that “research on firearms receives disproportionately low funding and has fewer publications compared to other top causes of death.” The lack of funding can lead to shortage of expertise in the field. One researcher interviewed told the GAO that “he discourages new students from firearm research exclusively because they will not be able to make a living in that research area alone.” Further, a shortage of high-quality data on firearms exacerbates the difficulty of conducting research in this area. The CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) has not included questions related to firearm safety since 2004. However, the CDC does plan to add a module on firearms in the 2017 survey, on the recommendation of the National Academy of Medicine.