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What Stops Gun Violence?

This is, maddeningly, once again the question of the moment in the United States.

I’ve written before about the crazy great opportunity for research-driven organizations to curate the literature on questions of public importance such as this one — to tell us what the best of our knowledge has found works and doesn’t.

Curating what the literature says on such questions — on whether screen time hinders children’s social or cognitive development, for instance — isn’t just a public service. It’s a stunning competitive advantage for the research-driven organization that can pull it off — in large part because so few do.

And, when you think about it, shouldn’t such curation be one of the first things decision makers, the media and the public think of when they think of “research” and “science”? In a world of partisanship and cognitive bias, tell us what objective inquiry says we can do about this problem.

Since research organizations haven’t seized this opportunity — have, in fact, acted in most cases as if becoming this kind of critical civic resource is the last thing they should spend time developing — it was only a matter of time before other sectors hungry for competitive advantage did. Such as journalism.

Dylan Matthews of Vox’s Future Perfect sent an email to the Future Perfect list yesterday afternoon with an intro that curated the state of knowledge on which interventions curtail or prevent gun violence — and exemplifies a model of research curation.

Its 750 words (yes, just 750 words) taught me a lot — specifically, as Matthews puts it, how research shows that “laws not often coded as ‘gun violence’ per se” can provide effective deterrence against gun violence. Laws such as (quoting from Thomas here):

  • Summer jobs programs, which cut mortality by 18 to 20 percent among participants by reducing homicides and suicides;
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy programs for young men, which cut violent crime arrests by 45 to 50 percent;
  • Repealing duty to warn laws, which require mental health providers to report violent threats, could reduce teen suicides by 8 percent, and overall homicides by 5 percent;
  • Childhood access to Medicaid reduces suicide later in life by 10 to 15 percent.

In addition, Matthews notes that “focused deterrence” policing approaches that zero in on those who are at highest risk for committing homicides directly caused a 31 percent drop in homicides in Oakland.

As Matthews concludes about focused deterrence:

That isn’t a gun control plan, and it’s something that high-crime cities could do without upsetting powerful gun lobbies. There are still things they should do that do upset powerful gun lobbies. But we shouldn’t let the power of the NRA paralyze us and prevent measures like that, which are effective and should be uncontroversial, from going forward.

Neither should research organizations and institutions allow the way they’ve always promoted research to get in the way of creating more useful research-based resources for the world.

If they don’t, someone else will do it for them — and research will be rendered its raw material, scrambling for scraps of credit.

Takeaway: What important public question or issue can you curate research on?

You don’t need a lab page. You might just need 750 words.