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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Grants for gun violence research available from UC Firearm Violence Research Center

First federally funded gun-violence research initiative in 20 years

The UC Firearm Violence Research Center (UCFC), located at UC Davis, recently launched a new round of funding for firearm violence research. This is the first round of funding to study firearm violence approved by the U.S. Congress in over two decades. Proposals for grants must be submitted by May 1 and decisions will be made over the summer, according to Garen Wintemute, a professor of emergency medicine and the director of UCFC.

“Firearm violence is a big problem here in California and the entire country, and the state recognized that and created a publicly-funded research center here with our program at UC Davis,” Wintemute said. “We recognize that while we can do a lot of good work here, there are plenty of smart people at other universities, and part of our job as a center is to help them do the work that they can do.”

UCFC is the first publicly funded center for firearm violence research. Committed to interdisciplinary approaches to address firearm violence and firearm-related deaths, UCFC supports researchers with backgrounds in medicine, epidemiology, statistics, criminology, law, economics and policy.

Since 2017, UCFC has researched firearm violence and has worked closely with the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP), established in 1991. VPRP’s research and policy programs focus on the nature, causes, consequences and prevention of many forms of violence, with a particular emphasis on firearm violence research and prevention, wrote Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, an assistant professor of emergency medicine with VPRP, via email. 

The new grant program has sent out two requests for proposals, both regarding firearm violence research. One program is only open to investigators at UC campuses, and will award grants of up to $75,000 to researchers. In order to increase grant accessibility, the other grant is open to applicants from all public universities.

To be chosen for funding, proposals should have rigorous study designs and a team with relevant experience. It is up to the applicants, however, to decide what they will study and how the grant will be used. Additionally, there is no set number of grants that will be given out, Wintemute said. 

“There is also far too little evidence on the effectiveness of policies and programs to prevent firearm violence,” Kravitz-Wirtz said. “Research funding from UCFC through its small and large grants programs is designed to help address this dearth of data and scientific evidence on one of the leading causes of death in this country.”

Wintemute and other supporters of the UCFC see firearm violence research as an essential step toward helping prevent future tragedies. Pro-firearm lobbyist groups, however, have historically worked to block and minimize funding for research. Matthew Larosiere, the director of legal policy at the Firearms Policy Coalition in Sacramento, spoke out against firearm violence driving public policy.

There is an increasing prevalence of firearm violence-related deaths in the U.S. and a disproportionately high number of firearm violence incidents in the U.S. compared to other developed countries. In 2017 alone, there were 14,542 firearm homicides, another 23,854 firearm suicides and an estimated 456,269 instances of aggravated assault, robbery or rape involving firearms in the U.S. Deaths from firearm violence now exceed those from motor vehicle crashes. 

There have also been more public mass shootings in the U.S. than in any other nation in the world. Additionally, firearm homicide rates are 25.2 times higher in the U.S. than in other high-income nations. Thirty-six thousand Americans are killed by firearms each year, according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Moreover, the frequency of firearm violence is increasing in the U.S., rising 16% from 2014 to 2017.

Larosiere and other opponents see firearm violence research as serving a specific political agenda — Larosiere claims that it is “odd” to focus on firearm violence research.

“I’m thankful we live in a time when overall violent crime is low and decreasing, and murders are mercifully rare,” Larosiere wrote via email. “Given that, it seems odd to focus on ‘gun violence’ as opposed to violence in general, when there seems to be a great many other causes of death that are far more common and preventable without threatening the fundamental rights of our people. It seems that, when violent crime is low, directing public funds to ‘gun violence’ research seems like a move driven more by agenda than public safety.”

In a press brief, UCFC explicitly stated that it hopes that future research will help “reduce firearm violence in California.” Wintemute and others who work at VPRP and UCFC acknowledge the opposition to their research, but still believe a scientific approach will lead to better understanding of firearm violence and ways to prevent it.

“We fund research because lives are at risk,” Wintemute said. “Our goal is to save lives and prevent injuries by preventing violence, and that’s what makes it important to fund good research and to fund lots of research.”

Examples of previous studies include researching the frequency of deaths and injuries in California and how they vary across the state, how common firearm ownership is in California, what firearms are used for and what kinds of firearms people own. 

Wintemute believes that using science to research firearms will effectively prevent violence and help researchers understand why it occurs. 

“We have to understand the effectiveness of prevention measures, and that’s where science comes in — just as if we were talking about the opioid epidemic or AIDS or heart disease or cancer, which are big problems,” Wintemute said. “In order to do something, we need to understand that it’s the same for firearm violence.”

Kravitz-Wirtz said that she hopes funding scientific research on firearms will decrease the statistics of death and injury. 

“Programs like these, which fund comprehensive, up-to-date research designed to answer basic questions about gun ownership and evaluate the effectiveness of firearm policies and violence prevention efforts, in combination with the wisdom of communities most impacted by violence, are thus a vital and life-saving endeavor,” Kravitz-Wirtz said.

Written by: Margo Rosenbaum and Ally Russell — campus@theaggie.org

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