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Reporting and Description of Research Methodology in Studies Estimating Effects of Firearm Policies.

Epidemiology 2024 April 10
BACKGROUND: Evidence about which firearm policies work, to what extent, and for whom is hotly debated, perhaps partly because variation in research methodology has produced mixed and inconclusive effect estimates. We conducted a scoping review of firearm policy research in the health sciences in the United States, focusing on methodological considerations for causal inference.

METHODS: We identified original, empirical articles indexed in PubMed from 1/1/2000-9/1/2021 that examined any of 18 pre-specified firearm policies. We extracted key study components, including policy type(s) examined, policy operationalization, outcomes, study setting and population, study approach and design, causal language, and whether and how authors acknowledged potential sources of bias.

RESULTS: We screened 7733 articles and included 124. A plurality of studies used a legislative score as their primary exposure (n=39; 32%) and did not examine change in policies over time (n=47; 38%). Most examined firearm homicide (n=51; 41%) or firearm suicide (n=40; 32%) as outcomes. One-third adjusted for other firearm policies (n=41; 33%). Three studies (2%) explicitly mentioned that their goal was to estimate causal effects, but over half used language implying causality (n=72; 58%). Most acknowledged causal identification assumptions of temporality (n=91; 73%) and exchangeability (n=111; 90%); other assumptions were less often acknowledged. One-third of studies included bias analyses (n=42; 34%).

CONCLUSIONS: We identified a range of methodologic approaches in firearm policy research in the health sciences. Acknowledging limitations of data availability and quality, we identify opportunities to improve causal inferences about and reporting on the effects of firearm policies on population health.

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