There are tons of records about guns—who sells them, who buys them, and, if they were used in crimes, when and where—but those records don’t necessarily make it into any database available to researchers.

Although evidence suggests that fewer guns mean fewer suicides and homicides, there’s just not enough data to influence national policy, according to David Hemenway of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, an expert on the public health impact of gun violence.

In a May 3 article published in Science News, Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard Chan School and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and other researchers discussed the difficulty of gathering new evidence for stricter gun control regulations that could save lives. They noted that scientists are desperate for more data to understand precisely which laws would be most effective so they can persuade legislators to strengthen national gun laws. But federal laws make it almost impossible for researchers to access even the data that are available, and poorly crafted gun laws make it difficult to clearly discern which laws, if enacted, would yield the biggest declines in gun fatalities and injuries.

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