RAND polls gun experts on both sides, urges more research on whether policies work

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As the debate rages over guns in America, The RAND Corporation, an influential non-partisan think tank, is pointing out what experts on both sides agree and disagree on, and what research says.

RAND is a well-known non-profit group that does contract work mainly for the federal government and states.

But this time it funded research of its own looking at whether many gun policies can save lives.

The group's analysts say they've studied the studies and good research, especially over the past two decades, is hard to find.

"The reason that a lot of these disagreements have continued for a long time is that there hasn’t been great data," said Andrew Morral, a senior behavioral scientist for RAND and the project lead on its "Gun Policy in America" study, which aims to separate fact from rhetoric in the debate over firearm regulation.

"We wanted to understand what is really known about the effects of these laws," he told a KATU reporter.

For the first part of the project, Morral said they reviewed all of the scientific literature that tries to get at the effects of gun laws.

"And we summarized the quality of the evidence for 13 different policies and what the evidence shows their effects are on eight different outcomes," he explained.

In a second part of the study, they surveyed gun policy experts including academics, professional organizations and advocates at groups on both sides of the debate like the National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign.

Between those groups, they found some consensus.

"There was reasonably good agreement that laws that expand mental health prohibitions against gun possession and use could reduce suicides and homicides," Morral said. "Another area of agreement is that laws requiring a mandatory reporting of lost and stolen firearms could help reduce crime and violence. There was also some consensus around the idea that a broad public health information campaign to promote safe storage could be helpful."

Researchers also found a comparatively strong agreement for the "surrender of firearms by prohibited possessors."

But Morral said there are still many policies experts disagree on.

"The bottom line is a lot of the gun policy debate boils down to disagreement about facts," Morral told KATU. "These facts are knowable but we have to invest in research to begin to know many of these things."

He said much of that research has not been done largely because Congress drastically reduced funding in 1996 by passing the "Dickey Amendment." The law says, "None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control."

A recent study Morral cited found that from 2004 to 2015, gun violence killed about as many people as sepsis, but funding for gun violence research was about 0.7 percent of that for sepsis.

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