Gun violence researchers at Harvard Chan School receive largest-ever grant

Gun display

January 25, 2023 – Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have received a five-year, $5 million grant to support research on firearm injuries and deaths.

The grant, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be a vital tool in advancing research on gun violence prevention in the U.S. The field has been substantially underfunded in recent years due to both restricted federal funding and charitable foundations’ reluctance to enter the politically-charged debate about firearms, according to David Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard Chan School and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC).

David Hemenway
David Hemenway

“It’s noteworthy that such a large, long-established healthcare funder has ventured into this field,” said Hemenway. “Our center has been conducting firearm research for over three decades, and we have never had such a generous research grant.”

Firearms killed more Americans in 2020 than motor vehicles, but despite this significant toll, there are relatively few studies into the impacts of guns on public health. The new grant will enable HICRC to conduct two more surveys in its series of National Firearms Surveys, continue its innovative work partnering with gun owners to reduce suicide, and use data from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS)—which the Center was instrumental in designing—to better understand shooting deaths.

“Gun ownership has been increasing in recent years, especially among Black Americans and women, but little is known about why,” said Hemenway. “This funding will help shed light on why both new and established gun owners chose to acquire their guns, how these weapons are stored, and if the transactions involved background checks. The surveys will also help us illuminate unknown details about the roughly 350,000 guns that are stolen every year. And they’ll help us gather data on recent changes to open firearm carrying in light of the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, which ruled that carrying a handgun in public is a constitutional right.”

The grant will also help HICRC attract a diverse group of pre- and post-doctoral scholars who might not otherwise consider a career in firearm research. The scholars will work with mentors at the HICRC to evaluate policy and community-level approaches to reducing suicide—the leading type of firearm death—and assaults, the leading type of nonfatal firearm injury.

Center researchers will use the NVDRS to closely analyze specific types of shooting deaths, like home invasion homicides, police homicides in rural and urban areas, and suicides among Black Americans.

“Firearm suicides among Black Americans have increased recently, but most of our prior applied interventions with groups like gun shop owners, firearm instructors, and clinicians have been informed by the experiences of white Americans,” Hemenway explained. “The funding will help ensure this work also reflects Black gun owners’ experiences.”

In addition, the Center will use the funds to begin a new project in communities hard hit by homicide, to help train street outreach workers and violence interrupters—individuals with criminal or gang histories who work in their own neighborhoods to mediate disputes and lessen gun violence—in suicide prevention.

Jeff Sobotko

Photo: iStock/artas