Policy/Biz

Gun Violence: Mathematicians Attempt To Bring Logic To The National Debate

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Two recent studies into gun violence aim to bring a logical and scientific foundation to the national debate. Sinodov, Creative Commons

In mass shootings, such as the Aurora, Colorado and the Newtown, Connecticut tragedies, armed citizens might save lives if properly trained and able to avoid killing bystanders. In more common domestic or one-on-one shootings, reduced access to legal guns is likelier to lower deaths.

Or so suggest two UC Irvine mathematicians, who designed parameters to measure how best to prevent firearm violence in the U.S.

"Can we design a rational way to argue about guns?" said Natalia Komarova, a mathetmatician who concentrates on biomedical and social trends, in a statement to the press.

The pair, actually a married couple, combined their professional expertise to review all available data on gun violence and then design a science-based theory. In their search for information, they went as far back as World War I. Next, they created a series of equations to precisely compute which gun policies — all of those running the gamut from the familiar "arm everyone" position to the equally common "ban all firearms everywhere" stance — in order to understand which strategy would most increase or decrease homicides. Their answers, if not always pleasing, at least lend logic and rationality to the continuing heated discussion of gun control.

"It's time to bring a scientific framework to this problem," said Dominik Wodarz, a mathematical biologist whose research focuses on disease and evolutionary dynamics, in a statement to the press. 

To further develop and implement effective policies, the authors believe, more comprehensive data is needed, yet they remain hopeful.

"If the current discussion could be steered toward science, rather than having a heated debate without much of a logical foundation, a big step forward toward saving lives would be achieved," the authors said of their research which appears in PLOS One.  

Oddly enough, their desire for logic to achieve their goal of saving lives precisely echoes the thoughts of President Obama on the issue.

Logical Debate on Gun-Related Death

In January 2013, President Obama directed federal agencies to improve knowledge of the causes of firearm violence, of prevention strategies, and of ways to minimize its burden on public health.

Specifically, he ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to immediately begin identifying the most pressing problems in firearm violence research. The resulting report, authored by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in collaboration with the National Research Council, focuses on the characteristics of firearm violence, risk and protective factors, interventions and strategies, the impact of gun safety technology, and the influence of video games and other media.

"When developing its agenda, the committee took a public health approach that focused on gun violence problems associated with significant levels of injuries and fatalities," said Alan Leshner, chair of the study committee and CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in a press release issued by the IOM. "Although this research agenda is an initial, not all-encompassing set of questions, it could help better define the causes and prevention of firearm violence in order to develop effective policies to reduce its occurrence and impact in the U.S. Similar approaches to public health problems have produced successes in lowering tobacco use, accidental poisoning, and motor vehicle fatalities."

Heartening Conclusions?

Many of the findings in the report, "Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence," are somewhat heartening. For instance, along with a decline in general crime rates in the past decade, violent crimes, including homicide, have also decreased in the past five years. That said, between 2005 and 2010, the percentage of firearm-related violent victimizations remained generally stable.

The report states that "unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in Americans one to 44. In 2010, there were twice as many non-fatal firearm related injuries (73,505) than deaths." In particular, firearm-related suicides, in the span of years from 2000 to 2010, outnumbered homicides among all age groups and accounted for 61 percent of the more than 335,600 people who died by firearm violence in the U.S.

Addressing the tragedies in Aurora and Newtown, the report notes that, "since 1983 there have been 78 events in which four or more individuals were killed by a single perpetrator in one day in the U.S. resulting in 547 victims and 476 injured persons."

"While many Americans legally use firearms for a variety of activities, fatal and nonfatal firearm violence poses a serious threat to public safety and welfare," summarize the authors. "In 2010, more than 105,000 people were injured or killed in the U.S. as the result of a firearm-related incident."

 

Source: Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence. National Academies Press. 2013.

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