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Five Major Questions For Firearm Injury Prevention Research

The need for strong research on gun violence is great after another spate of mass shootings, writes Megan Ranney of Brown University's School of Public Health, a practicing emergency physician and a researcher focusing on firearm injury prevention, in the Washington Post. Congress appropriated funds to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to invest in firearm injury prevention research in the 2020 budget for the first time in 24 years. Private organizations such as Kaiser Permanente and the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research are also committing funds, and President Biden has dedicated resources to evaluating community violence interventions. There is growing proof that solutions exist. For example, repairing abandoned houses and planting gardens in vacant lots are tremendously effective at reducing gun shots and homicides. These require nothing more than community will and a small amount of funding. Ranney poses five questions that could help lead to solutions for the gun epidemic. 1. How often do firearm injuries happen, and to whom? We don’t have an accurate count of such injuries in a given year, much less the number of shots fired. We have no accurate counts of defensive gun use. We have little data on stolen or trafficked firearms or the costs of a gunshot wound. Without these facts, we can neither assess the scope of the problem nor decide what works. 2. Can we know who is at risk before they pull the trigger? Of the 400 million firearms in private hands, about 100,000 are used to hurt someone in a given year. Some researchers, such as Jillian Peterson and James Densley, have created databases to describe mass shooters. What is it about someone that makes them shoot themselves or someone else? Are there environmental signals that we can act on? How do we identify these signs without violating privacy rights and without bias?

3. How do we act effectively once we know who is at risk? There are laws in place to keep firearms out of the wrong hands, such as limits on purchases by people with a history of domestic violence convictions. They are often unenforced, and the risk of injury can change after a gun is purchased. Some of the best prevention occurs outside of law enforcement. How do we empower communities and individuals to recognize risk and act to prevent a shooting? Gun shops, health-care providers, families, schools and workplaces all have a role to play. 4. How can we change firearms themselves? Over the past decade, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths have been suicides; many gun crimes are committed with stolen or trafficked firearms. Nothing but the bounds of creativity and the will of manufacturers stops us from developing guns that people cannot use on themselves or when they are stolen. 5. How do we create and sustain leadership in communities most familiar with firearms and firearm injury? From urban neighborhoods marked by structural racism to economically depressed rural hamlets to veterans’ organizations, we must elevate the voices of firearm owners and understand the reasons for firearm ownership, Ranney says.


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