Bang bang: Science, violence, and public policy

I was on CBC Radio 1's Day 6 last weekend, talking about some of the reasons why scientists can't answer key questions about guns — whether current gun policies do anything to reduce violent crime, for instance, or whether more guns cause less (or more) violence. In a related debate, you should also read the article on the science of video games and real-life violence that Brandon Keim wrote for PBS' NOVA. The truth is that this branch of science also has big problems connecting cause and effect and, as with gun policy research, the best kinds of experiments can't really be done for logistical and ethical reasons.


  1. Um, the truth is – scientists have been prohibited from studying gun violence in our country, thanks to the efforts of the NRA.  That’s why they can’t answer the questions.

  2. Video game use is up a billion percent in the last 30 years, violent crime rates are down.

  3. If only we could draw conclusions about gun violence based on what legal and cultural differences set the U.S. apart from similar countries that have less gun violence!

    Alas—the only responsible thing to do is make sure all our citizens are heavily armed, just in case that helps in some way.

  4. The main weakness with all of the CDC-funded gun research is that it looked at gun violence as a disease, not as a crime. It is all well and good to speak metaphorically of “an epidemic of gun violence” but violence and crime are not really diseases. As a scientist in Maggie’s article says, “A gun is not a virus.” But the CDC-funded research into guns used an epidemiological model – the researchers asserted that a gun acted as a pathogen, like a virus or a bacteria, and would actually infect those who came into contact with it: infect them with the disease of violence. While it is true that the NRA fought to prevent more studies like these from being funded by the CDC, they didn’t really have to fight too hard, because most criminologists thought the studies were a waste of time and money, so Congress pulled the plug.

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