Penn Researcher Co-Authors Report on Gun Violence and Mass Shootings

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | jdisanto@upenn.edu | 215-898-4820December 12, 2013

In trying to predict mass shootings, there is no reliable psychological profile or set of warning signs that can help to identify shooters, according to “Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention and Policy,” a comprehensive report issued today by the American Psychological Association.

The report was commissioned by the APA in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and was drafted by a task force comprised of psychologists and researchers, including Susan B. Sorenson, a professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice and director of the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence at the University of Pennsylvania.

Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention and Policy,” summarizes the psychological research that has helped to develop evidence-based programs that can prevent violence through both primary and secondary interventions. Critical primary prevention programs reduce risk factors for violence in the general population, while secondary prevention programs can help people who are experiencing emotional difficulties or interpersonal conflicts – before escalating into violence.

The report points to behavioral threat assessment as the most effective prevention strategy currently available to prevent episodes of mass violence and calls for research-guided prevention efforts to reduce the introduction of firearms into family and community conflicts; policies that identify and provide adequate treatment for people in psychological distress; increased research funding; and better access to gun-related administrative data in order to identify potential prevention strategies.

“Data aren’t the sole basis for policy and programs,” Sorenson said, “but they are important to developing sound strategies for reducing gun violence. While we are not able to predict which person will use a gun under what circumstances, in which setting, against whom, and when, we do know that, whether used against one’s self or against another person, the use of a gun greatly increases the odds that violence will result in a fatality.”

Divided into two sections, the report outlines conditions existing before gun violence occurs and “what works” in terms of gun violence prediction and prevention.  It also concluded:

·      Access to mental health care can help with prevention, but an exclusive focus on mental health issues will not solve the problem of gun violence.

·      Creating family and community environments that promote healthy development and continued care for troubled individuals helps because a propensity for violence can begin early in life.

·      Intervention with at-risk families can improve parenting skills and disrupt the pathway from early-onset aggression to violence.

Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention and Policy” can be found here.

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