Penn Researcher Works to Study Gun Violence

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | jdisanto@upenn.edu | 215-898-4820July 5, 2013

It’s a public-health crisis. Nearly 30,000 firearm-related homicides and suicides occur each year. 

Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and other researchers have been restrained by congressional action from using funds to examine firearm-related deaths or injuries, since 1997. 

But President Obama has ended the freeze on gun-violence research, a move important to a University of Pennsylvania researcher.

Susan B. Sorenson, a professor in Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice, says having access to federal financial resources is essential for the research field to move forward in a meaningful fashion.

“The chilling effect of no funding and restrictions on data can be seen in at least two key ways,” Sorenson explains. “First, we don’t have answers to important questions that could help guide policy.  And second, we don’t have a trained workforce. With universities set up to reward grant getting, promising young scholars went into other fields.  It will take a long time to build knowledge and capacity for the field.”

Sorenson is a nationally recognized authority in public-health epidemiology and violence prevention, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, child abuse and firearms. She served as a part the Institute of Medicine’s 15-member committee, which issued a report, “Priorities for a Public Health Research Agenda to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence,” detailing potential research topics, based on previous relevant research, public input and expert judgment.

Several members of the committee, including Sorenson, have provided briefings to the Centers for Disease Control, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The committee was asked to identify research priority areas – characteristics of gun violence, risk and protective factors, prevention and other interventions, gun safety technology and the influence of various types of media, including video games – that could yield progress within three to five years.

In addition, researchers say this public health research agenda should be integrated with research from criminal justice and other perspectives in order to provide a more complete knowledge base because no single agency or research strategy is able to give researchers all of the answers.

“The Institute of Medicine report detailing a research agenda for public health research on firearm-related violence is a good first step,” Sorenson says.

Funding for the research is in the president’s budget and the CDC is taking a look the report to set priorities.

The report is available at http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2013/Priorities-for-Research-to-Reduce-the-Threat-of-Firearm-Related-Violence.aspx.

Sorenson came to Penn in 2006, after spending more than 20 years at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she taught the first violence0prevention course in a school of public health. Her course on guns and health is a popular senior seminar at Penn.

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