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What We Can Do Now to Prevent Future Gun Deaths

Let’s mark the one-year anniversary of the Parkland school shootings with much-needed action

Demonstrators gather during the March for Our Lives rally March 24, 2018 in Washington, D.C., spurred by the Feb. 14 shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Today marks a somber anniversary: one year since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting that stole 17 lives and launched a national youth movement to end America’s epidemic of mass violence. Many will use the day to opine about the tragic event, the regularity of shootings, and the courage of Parkland students. All true. But the most fitting tribute isn’t more think pieces. It’s action. 

With that in mind, here are two things we can do to help prevent future loss of life and injury from gun violence:

1. Congress should increase funding for gun violence research across relevant federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Veterans’ Affairs (VA), and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

Even if Congress signaled a willingness to pass new gun policies, there is little rigorous research showing us which policies are most effective at saving lives. For decades, basic questions about how to prevent gun violence have gone unresearched. We don’t know where the guns used to commit shootings come from, for instance, or which laws and policies are most effective at curbing gun violence.

We don’t have answers because the federal government — our country’s biggest source of research funding — has significantly underinvested in this topic. Gun violence is one of the leading causes of death in America. Yet according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, we spend $100 million less per year researching it than on public health issues that kill a similar number of people, such as sepsis and poisonings (Stark and Shah 2017). 

We know from past experience combating public health crises that research is what turns the tide. In response to road traffic deaths in the 1970s, for example, Congress established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, providing hundreds of millions of dollars for research into what could make cars, drivers, and roads safer. This research led to safety standards that have saved more than 600,000 lives over the last 40 years. The latest numbers from the CDC show the death toll from gun violence has surpassed road traffic deaths, yet we’ve seen nowhere near the same level of investment in prevention.

Now is the time for the federal government to begin a robust research program across multiple agencies. After all, with suicides representing two-thirds of all gun deaths, and a disproportionate number of those suicides committed by veterans, this issue is as gravely important to the VA and NIJ as it is to the CDC.

We are children. You guys are the adults. Take action and get something done.”
Parkland students

2. Governments and philanthropies should support rigorous research to inform policies that lower harms while protecting individuals’ constitutional rights.

While the federal government is the most important funder, the philanthropic community should also step up. Philanthropies play a unique role in American public policy as catalysts for change, often blazing paths forward that governments follow. And there is no issue more in need of people willing to press forward than gun violence. Philanthropic investments could help build the foundation of knowledge we’ve been missing for decades — evidence that can help us develop more effective gun policies.

To their credit, several foundations, including the Joyce Foundation and California Wellness Foundation, have tried to fill the gap left by the federal government. Last year, we at Arnold Ventures launched the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research with a $20 million commitment over five years, and we’re calling other philanthropists to join us. The mission of the Collaborative is staunchly nonpartisan and staunchly scientific: It funds policy-relevant research on issues that can increase public safety while protecting individuals’ constitutional rights.

An overwhelming majority of Americans are hungry for effective, nonpartisan policies based on research. In the words of the Parkland students themselves: We are children. You guys are the adults. Take action and get something done.” Congress: it’s time. Let’s get this done. 

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A new generation of gun research

We are proud to fund the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, which funds scientific research to help develop fair and effective gun policy.

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