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Medical and academic researchers are conducting the first major study in 20 years on firearm injuries and deaths of children and teens. The $5 million project seeks to reduce the number of young people wounded and killed by guns. Firearm-related fatalities are the second leading cause of death among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“There is a gap in the literature and now we have an opportunity to actually go back and identify these gaps and come up with good policies that are based on facts, that are based on best practices, and based on what we know,” said Jesenia Pizarro, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University.
Pizarro, who studies homicide, is one 20 researchers from a dozen universities and health-care organizations taking part in the interdisciplinary study. The consortium includes specialists in trauma surgery, adult and pediatric medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
“The large problem of gun violence, as it affects children and adolescents in the U.S., cannot be solved without an interdisciplinary group of scientists coming together to bring their individual expertise to develop solutions to this complex issue,” said Frederick P. Rivara, a professor of pediatrics and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington.
Researchers are working on different teams tasked with examining a specific focus. The first task is to create a research agenda or outline for the field of firearm injury that is specific to pediatrics. It’s scheduled to be published this fall.
“The Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) put out a broad report in 2013 but it didn’t have a research agenda on the firearm issues specifically affecting children,” said Stephen Hargarten, a professor and chair of emergency medicine and director of the Comprehensive Injury Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “Our workgroups are already reviewing current literature to highlight those issues and find the research gaps, and by the end of the summer, we will publish the ‘big questions’ that require investigation.”
Researchers are also working on five small projects to generate preliminary data for use on larger scale studies of firearm injuries. The FACTS consortium will serve as a training ground for new researchers, including graduate students and postdoctoral trainees. A webinar series to educate researchers will also be produced.
“There are not enough researchers, trainees, junior faculty or funding for seed projects in this research area and this is truly a capacity-building grant to jump-start the field of pediatric firearm injury prevention,” said Rebecca Cunningham, a professor of emergency medicine at Michigan Medicine and the University of Michigan School of Public Health and associate vice president for research-health sciences at the University of Michigan. “This grant will have a significant effect on reduction of firearm injury; however, to prevent childhood firearm injury and death will require similar resources as have been applied to childhood cancer, motor vehicle crashes and asthma.”
For her part, ASU’s Pizarro will examine research on suicides, accidental and intentional shootings. Researchers will also work with stakeholder groups to identify evidence-based solutions.
“We don't want this to be one sided so we are examining the issues from varying view points and angles, we're not looking to take away people's guns or do anything like that,” cautioned Pizarro. “We just want to come up with possible solutions to prevent gun injuries.”
The interdisciplinary nature of the five-year project excites Pizarro. It’s something that will not only inform her research, but also her teaching. She considers it an honor to work with leading researchers in other disciplines.
“It’s an opportunity for me to learn so much that I could bring into my classroom — that I could bring into criminology — because, too often, the fields don't talk,” Pizarro said. “We don't talk with that emergency doctor, we don't talk with a pediatrician, we don't talk with the public health specialists and now this is an opportunity for all of us to be in the same room — for all of us to learn from each other.”
The consortium is made up of faculty from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago/Northwestern University, Arizona State University, Children's National Health System, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Columbia University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island Hospital/Brown University, University of Washington and the Medical College of Wisconsin.