Firearms Research and Public Health: Promoting Awareness through Online Access


Matthew L. Boulton

Professor of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine; Professor of Global Public Health; Editor-in-Chief, American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Over the past two decades, lack of funding support and other legislative obstacles have stifled research on the public health effects of gun violence in the United States.

Now, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) is joining other research outlets in an effort to make the journal’s published firearms research freely accessible to readers. As of April 5, 2018, approximately 40 firearms-related research articles published since 2011 are available for the public to download on the AJPM website, with no subscription necessary.

Gun violence is a major public health issue in the United States yet remains understudied due to congressional limits placed on the CDC in conducting surveillance and research on firearm-related injury. The public health community can clearly play a leading role in decreasing injury and deaths from guns, but developing effective interventions to do so will require reducing barriers and increasing support for firearm-related research.

The articles available through AJPM’s Firearms Research Initiative touch on a wide range of issues. One is violent crime. For example, Monuteaux et al (2015) found that, contrary to the common view that gun ownership is a deterrent to crime, the likelihood of a violent crime being perpetrated with a firearm is actually higher in states showing higher levels of gun ownership.

The public health community can clearly play a leading role in decreasing injury and deaths from guns, but developing effective interventions to do so will require reducing barriers and increasing support for firearm-related research.

Another article, by Smith et al (2017), examined trends in the firearms industry itself, finding a recent shift toward the manufacture of more lethal weapons. They also found that these trends were reflected in gun sales and in guns traced to crimes as tracked by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Other research in the collection examines public health aspects of firearms and the justice system. Unsurprisingly, DeGue et al (2016) found that nearly 94 percent of fatal injuries inflicted by law enforcement officers in their study were caused by firearms. At the same time, firearms were responsible for 91 percent of homicides against law enforcement officers in a study by Blair et al (2016).

AJPM’s firearms research collection also highlights the issue of suicide. For example, Logan et al (2016) documented that in their sample, 68 percent of current service members and 59 percent of veterans who committed suicide used firearms. Tiesman et al (2015) found that 48 percent of workplace suicides in their study involved firearms, a figure that increased to 84 percent among protective services occupations.

Among these diverse and important findings runs a common thread: Taken together, the articles in this collection point to the need for continued and enhanced public health research on firearms. AJPM’s Firearms Research Initiative is intended to contribute to the sizable task of increasing public knowledge and vigilance on this important public health issue.

The American College of Preventive Medicine, one of AJPM’s sponsoring societies, advocated in a 2016 policy statement for a “comprehensive public health approach to addressing the issue of gun violence” as well as “effective policies and legislation at all levels of the government that are intended to prevent and reduce injuries and deaths related to firearms.” By making available and continuing to publish research on these topics, AJPM hopes to be an active partner in furthering these goals.

Access the collection of firearms research articles from the AJPM.

About the Author

Matthew L. BoultonMatthew L. Boulton is a professor of epidemiology and global public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which is housed in the Department of Epidemiology within the School of Public Health. AJPM, a leading international public health journal, publishes peer-reviewed research on prevention science, education, practice, and policy across a variety of topics. The journal is jointly sponsored by the American College of Preventive Medicine and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research and has a 2016 impact factor of 4.212.



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