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Gun violence is severely understudied compared to other causes of death, study finds

When measured by the number of research papers published, gun violence is the least researched major cause of death in the U.S.

Each day, 306 people in the U.S. are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings and police interventions.
REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Gun violence kills more than 33,000 people in the United States each year, making it one of the leading causes of death in the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual rate of gun-related deaths in the U.S. is 10.2 per 100,000 people — the highest among industrialized countries. (Minnesota’s rate is 6.6 per 100,000.)

Each day, 306 people in the U.S. are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings and police interventions. An average of 90 Americans die daily from such wounds, including seven children and teens.

Yet, despite the high death toll — as well as the 70,000-plus non-fatal injuries caused by guns each year in the U.S. — the funding and publication of research on gun violence is woefully low, as a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports.

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In fact, when measured by the number of research papers published, gun violence is the least researched major cause of death in the U.S.

Dr. David Stark of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and Nigam Shah of Stanford University gathered CDC mortality statistics from 2004 to 2014 (the most recent year for which such data was available) for the top 30 causes of death. They then searched MEDLINE (the National Library of Medicine’s journal citation database) for the total number of papers published between 2004 and 2015 for each of those leading causes of death. Next, they combed through the Federal RePORTER, a searchable database of all research projects funded by U.S. government agencies, for data on studies that received federal funding from 2004 through 2015 for each cause of death.

Findings

An analysis of all that data revealed that gun violence research “was substantially underfunded and understudied relative to other leading causes of death, based on mortality rates for each cause,” write Stark and Shah.

Between 2004 and 2015, gun-violence research received only 1.6 percent of the federal funding that was predicted based on its death rate. Specifically, $22 million was dedicated to such research during those years compared to the predicted $1.4 billion.

In addition, the volume of gun-violence research (from all funding sources) that was published during the 12-year period was only 4.5 percent of what was predicted. A total of 1,738 research papers on gun-violence related topics appeared in MEDLINE journals when 38,897 were predicted.

Stark and Shah also point out that although gun violence killed about as many Americans as sepsis during the years studied, funding for gun violence research was about 0.7 percent of that for sepsis and publication volume was about 4 percent.

“In relation to mortality rates, gun violence research was the least-researched cause of death and the second-least funded cause of death after falls,” they add.

‘A public health crisis’

Last summer, the American Medical Association became one of the latest health groups to declare gun violence “a public health crisis,” and to urge Congress to overturn 21-year-old legislation that has prohibited the CDC from researching it. Congress has extended those restrictions to the National Institutes of Health.

“Although the legislation does not ban gun-related research outright,” write Stark and Shah, “it has been described as casting a pall over the research community.”

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But with Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress — and with Donald Trump soon to enter the White House — it’s unlikely that the ban on federal funded gun-violence research will be lifted.

Last July, after the horrific mass shooting at the Orlando, Florida, nightclub in which 49 people were killed — congressional Democrats tried (yet again) to overturn the ban. Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee blocked those efforts, however, claiming that such research was just a ruse to overturn the Second Amendment and ban guns.

“This is not about a gun registry,” Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., a supporter of lifting the gun-research ban, told her colleagues at the time. “There is no gun confiscation. There is absolutely no harm to the Second Amendment. This is about research. My amendment is about research, nothing more.” Research, it should be stressed, that could help save lives — as research on the other 29 leading causes of death in the U.S. has done.

The gun-related death count has already begun for 2017. As of the end of yesterday — only three days into the new year — guns have claimed the lives of at least 111 Americans, including six children under the age of 12.

FMI:  The study by Stark and Shah can be found on the JAMA website.