50 state census shows huge gaps in gun data

With a lack of any standardized policies or data, it’s hard to even know what we don’t know

Written by Vanessa Nason
Edited by JPat Brown

Eight months ago, MuckRock launched a new project to examine nationwide gun policies. The premise was simple: we’ll treat gun-related violence as a public health issue because the government will not.

As it turns out, the American Medical Association is on our side, and recently voted to call it out as such and direct federal funds to study gun violence. But since the infamous 1996 Dickey Amendment, using federal funds to promote what might be considered gun control is strictly outlawed.

So we here at MuckRock have been using the power of public records to pick up where the government has forced agencies to leave off.

Caroline Curtis began the project by filing the same FOIA request with all 50 Attorney General offices and state police departments. In essence, the request asked for policies and procedures regarding every aspect of firearms: obtaining and revoking licenses, transfers and sales, and incidents involving their use.

What we got varied widely.

Few states provided all of the data asked for in the initial request, and it quickly became apparent that there’s no standard dictating what data states must keep on record.

In New Hampshire, for example, gun permits are issued by local police departments, and there is no statewide database of total issued and revoked permits. But neighboring Massachusetts retains a list detailing types of firearms licenses and how many are held by residents of each town and city. New Hampshire does, however, keep track of homicides that have involved firearms.

But it doesn’t break down the data into age, sex, race, or location, which North Dakota does and keeps readily available on its website.

Delaware had no documents that were allowed to be viewed by the public. Iowa simply sent over a three-page document that on its “violence-free workplace policy for executive branch employees.”

Not quite a fulfillment of the initial request.

Many states have still not responded to our requests, and given the forbidden nature of discussions surrounding what might be considered a promotion of gun control, the scattered data is to be expected.

It seems we still have a long way to go.


Image via Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY 3.0