Are firearms injuries rising, falling or holding steady in the U.S.? Itâ€™s hard to tell, and thatâ€™s an enormous obstacle to understanding and preventing them.
There is no reliable national database for firearm injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collect data from multiple sources.
Much health care data is regionally compartmentalized, because itâ€™s collected by individual states from hospital emergency rooms and other sources. For firearms, the problem is compounded by variations in reporting.
Crimes committed with firearms that do not result in gunshot wounds and occur in areas in which gun violence is relatively common are less likely to be reported to and recorded by the police. Consistency in reporting is also likely to differ between periods when gun crime is trending high and more peaceful times, as political pressures stemming from high rates of gun crime create incentives for police to under-report crimes in which there are no serious injuries to victims.
The FBI currently collects crime data through two different reporting systems. All states still using the older of the two, the Uniform Crime Reporting program, are scheduled to transition to the newer National Incident-Based Reporting System by 2021. That standardization should help, but only if police departments are encouraged to provide more comprehensive data, including important context on non-fatal shootings.
Another improvement would be for hospital emergency rooms nationwide to code firearm injuries and fatalities classifying not only the type of injury, such as a â€śgunshot wound,â€ť but also whether the gunshot resulted from accident, criminal assault or self-harm.
The big-picture data we do know for the U.S. are stark: roughly 35,000 gun deaths annually, along with about 90,000 firearm injuries. Gun violence is the leading cause of death for young American men.
Lowering these numbers requires investigating the precise ways in which guns are used to injure or kill people. But high-quality research canâ€™t happen without high-quality data.