The intention of any review is to take stock of the available fund of knowledge in some topical area. Under the Gun is no different: our goal has been to glean from the volumes of previous studies those facts that, in our view, seem firmly and certainly established; those hypotheses that seem adequately supported by, or at least approximately consistent with, the best available research evidence; and those areas or topics about which, it seems, we need to know a lot more than we do. One of our major conclusions can be stated in advance: despite the large number of studies that have been done, many critically important questions have not been adequately researched, and some of them have not been examined at all.
Much of the available research in the area of weapons and crime has been done by advocates for one or another policy position. As a consequence, the manifest intent of many "studies" is to persuade rather than to inform. We have tried to approach the topic from a purely agnostic point of view, treating as an open question what policies should be enacted with regard to gun, or crime, control. Thus, we have tried to judge each study on its own merits, on the basis of the routine standards normally applied to social-scientific research, and not on the basis of how effectively it argues for a particular policy direction. It would, of course, be presumptuous to claim that we have set aside all our own biases in conducting this study. Whether or not our treatment is fair and objective is clearly something for the reader, and not us, to decide.
Contrary to the frequency claims of excessive leniency on the part of judges that are often asserted by journalists and shapers of opinions, Rossi and Berk find strong correspondence between the median sentences deemed appropriate by the public and the sentences prescribed by the guidelines. Although the authors conclude that the Commission was able to match prescribed punishments closely to the American consensus for most crimes, in one category -- drug trafficking offenses -- the guidelines were much harsher in dealing with offenders.
The national survey used a factorial survey as its design strategy, allowing for analysis of a large variety of federal crimes and variations in the social characteristics of convicted felons. A wealth of detail, along with ample graphic and tabular illustrations, extends the book's application to issues of consensus and variations in punitiveness by region and socioeconomic characteristics of respondents.