Professor Jill Messing, Associate Professor Jesenia Pizarro, NCGVR, study, grant

Watts College professors awarded $1.3 million grant to study possible factors leading to intimate-partner homicide


Mark J. Scarp

Two faculty members at ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions will use a new $1.3 million grant to study killings of one intimate partner by another to learn more about the factors that might increase the risk of these tragedies.

The National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research (NCGVR) announced on July 30 a total of $7.5 million in grants to 15 research projects that are designed to build on what the organization termed “a recent revival in gun violence research funding.”

In July 2019, NCGVR awarded $9.8 million to 17 research projects, in addition to a first-time federal grant of $25 million to support gun violence research made late last year.

Professor Jill Messing of the School of Social Work (SSW) (at left in photo) and Associate Professor Jesenia Pizarro of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice (SCCJ) (at right) will examine risk factors for intimate-partner homicide, known as IPH, in Missouri and Oregon. Messing said such factors could include firearm access, use and ownership and how they intersect with factors at the family, community, social and environmental levels.

Pizarro said understanding the risk factors that precede IPH can help create successful prevention strategies. “IPHs are some of the most preventable homicides since there are usually various red flags prior to the incidents; this study strives to identify these red flags,” she said.

Missouri and Oregon will be studied because the two states provide good comparisons in demographics and their approaches to firearms regulation, she said, adding that the findings could help policymakers decide how to reduce and prevent lethal intimate-partner violence.

Messing said the NCGVR funding was a direct result of an initial $160,000 community collaborative grant from Watts College and the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. She and Pizarro used the funding to develop and pilot research methods, gather pilot data in Arizona and build their research team, placing them in a position to apply for and receive this competitive funding from the NCGVR, Messing said.

Such grants are important investments in faculty research because pilot research is often necessary to be eligible for larger funding amounts from outside grantors.

Messing said their research team will gather homicide data starting in 2019 continuing through 2020, to see whether IPH trends changed during that time due to factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unemployment is a risk factor for IPH. Also, there have been increased gun purchases since the pandemic,” she said.

NCGVR funds rigorous scientific research with direct relevance to firearm-violence reduction in the United States. It was seeded with a $20 million gift from Arnold Ventures and has been supported by contributions from other organizations, including Wells Fargo, Missouri Foundation for Health, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. For more information, go to

“Research has a critical role to play in informing fair and effective gun policy. Thanks to NCGVR, ASU is part of this new wave of gun-policy research,” said Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell. “Congratulations to Professors Messing and Pizarro, whose efforts in this important area of research exemplify what the Watts College mission – to find solutions – is all about.”

In addition to this study, Watts College has several other faculty members engaged in community-relevant work toward the prevention of violence. For example, the Watts College-based Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, headed by Watts Family Director Charles Katz, maintains the Arizona Violent Death Reporting System. AZVDRS is part of the National Violent Death Reporting System, which is administered by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. AZVDRS gathers and collates information on violent deaths in Arizona through state health department official death certificate data, medical examiner (or coroner) reports conducting autopsies and law enforcement investigation reports from the responsible jurisdictions.

Mark J. Scarp ( is media relations officer of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. ASU photos