Expert Panel on Firearms Data Infrastructure

Any reasoned debate on firearms in the US, particularly one that seeks to protect 2nd amendment rights while taking seriously the role of firearms in violence in America, must begin with a shared set of facts. At present, the firearms data infrastructure in the United States is too limited to provide that foundation. In partnership with Arnold Ventures, NORC is hosting a series of convenings with an expert panel with diverse professional experiences that will produce practical guidance for a rigorous, objective and sustainable firearms data architecture for use by local, state and federal policymakers and their constituents. Over one year, the expert panel will meet three times to exchange ideas, review a broad systems science literature and hear testimony from experts. The final document will serve as a blueprint for the development and implementation of new data projects—and set expectations for project outcomes.

The current gap in high quality, transparent and objective firearms data and the limited infrastructure to support data design, collection, integration, analysis and dissemination is a substantial roadblock to informed policymaking around firearm violence.

As prior systematic reviews of firearms research have made clear, the quality of the data that underlie scientific inquiry is central to the public’s acceptance of conclusions reached by the research. Any research study on causes and correlates of firearms-related violent crime, population-level studies of prevention and intervention programs in public health or criminal justice, or simple facts about firearms violence to frame a civil dialogue, require a foundation in valid and reliable data. The data must be comparable across states and cities to create a national picture that is meaningful to local jurisdictions. The creation of a productive data infrastructure would create a knowledge ecology where reasoned policy, grounded in scientific principles and empirical evidence, may be viable.

The three products from the Expert Panel include:

  • The State of Firearms Data in 2019. An assessment of the state of firearms data collection and infrastructure in key substantive domains (criminal justice, health and public health), including both administrative and survey data as well as compilations and systems of data integration. The paper will consider the extant data within the framework of the six essential components of data infrastructure.

  • Conceptual Framework for a Firearm Data Infrastructure. The paper explores topics in technical and methodological advances in infrastructure development and architecture, mechanisms for sustainability of data infrastructure, implementation science of data systems adoption, and case studies in sustainable systems science.

  • A Blueprint for a U.S. Firearms Data Infrastructure. This paper synthesizes and distills the work of the Expert Panel, including expert testimony, panel formulations, and staff research into actionable recommendations for the federal, state, and local government to improve firearms data collection. This paper describes the significant limitations in the U.S. federal system of data for understanding gun violence and presents detailed steps to address these problems, including a prioritized list of future projects, where each effort should be located, timing for implementation, and potential impact on policy and practice.

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