Washington's fight over firearms restrictions isn't limited to Congress. It's also taking place in the halls of science — literally — where gun control advocates and the National Rifle Association differ over the direction federal research on gun violence should take.
John Frazer, research director of the NRA's legislative arm, told a committee of experts on guns and public health Tuesday that better data is needed on the benefits of gun ownership, such as peoples' use of firearms to defend themselves.
Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, focused on obtaining more information on how people get guns and the deaths and injuries the weapons cause.
The experts were meeting in a building used by the National Academies, a private organization that provides science advice to the government. The committee is deciding what recommendations to make about federal research of gun violence, which President Barack Obama ordered resumed after nearly two decades in which the work has been blocked by Congress.
"This is not about developing a policy agenda for guns. This is about developing a research agenda," said Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, who is head the research committee. "We are the science folks."
This year's debate over gun control, sparked by December's killing of 20 first-graders and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school, was hampered by old, at times unreliable data on guns. The Senate last week rejected a series of gun control proposals, and Democratic leaders put aside their effort to restrict firearms after realizing they lacked the votes needed for approval.
Now, the battle is carrying over to the type of research each side thinks is needed.
Gross told the panel about the estimated 30,000 gun deaths and 70,000 gun injuries that occur annually but spoke of the need for better information, including precise breakdowns of how many of the weapons involved were obtained illegally.
The Brady group leader estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 of the deaths were caused by firearms obtained illegally, but said, "It would be a lot easier to make that leap if we had the data around it."
The NRA's Frazer also recommended conducting surveys of inmates to determine how they choose victims, and figuring out how many guns are obtained from private transactions.
Currently, transactions by licensed gun dealers require background checks of buyers, but those sold privately do not.
"It would be worth knowing how many transactions this would actually affect," Frazer said of proposals to extend background checks to private purchases.
The Senate defeated a proposal last week to extend the background checks to all firearms bought at gun shows and online.
The experts plan to make gun research recommendations to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in two months.
Meanwhile, an author of a defeated bipartisan plan for expanding background checks for more gun buyers said he is considering changing the measure to try to get additional Senate votes.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said that after last week's Boston Marathon bombings, he might change the legislation to bar people on the government's terror lists from obtaining firearms.
"It might get people more comfortable with it," he said of his colleagues.
It was unclear which terror list Manchin meant. The government has investigated hundreds of thousands of people for possible terrorist ties, but many are not guilty and only a few are on a "no-fly" list that bars them from flying.