Newswise — A team led by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professors Ninez Ponce and Michael Rodriguez has received a $596,000 grant from the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research to address data gaps about gun use and improve firearms policies.

“Research has a critical role to play in informing effective gun policy,” said Rodriguez, professor of community health sciences at the Fielding School (FSPH) who serves as co-director of the UCLA Firearm Violence Prevention Center. “We are excited to be part of this new wave of gun policy research, especially given the rigorous standards set by the Collaborative.”

Rodriguez, who is also a professor and vice chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and Ponce, professor of health policy and management at FSPH and research director of FSPH's UCLA Center for Health Policy (CHPR), will lead a three-year-long study to advance knowledge on gun violence related to firearm ownership, storage practices, and perceptions of gun safety, and fill critical data gaps about risk factors for gun suicide and urban gun violence related to understudied and disproportionately impacted subpopulations, including youth/young adults, veterans, immigrants, and LGBT people.

The study is among $7.5 million in grants announced by the Collaborative for 15 research projects that will produce evidence for improving gun policy in America. The grants build on a recent revival of gun violence research funding. In July 2019, the Collaborative awarded an initial round of $9.8 million to 17 research projects. Then, for the first time in more than 20 years, the federal government committed $25 million to support gun violence research at the end of 2019.

Ponce’s and Rodriguez’s CHPR study was selected from among 48 full proposals invited by the Collaborative after receiving 238 letters of interest responding to its proposal request. This research is aimed at improving the understanding of socioeconomic, demographic, and environmental risk and protective factors associated with gun ownership, firearm storage practices, and nonfatal suicidal behavior in California by adding a firearms module in the 2021 and 2022 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the largest population-based state survey in the nation, which annually collects information on 20,000 adults and adolescents representative of the diverse California population. 

Attached to over 200 questions on sociocultural domains, social determinants of health, mental health, suicide ideation and health status, health access and health behavior, and neighborhood safety and social cohesion, the CHIS will identify intervenable individual, family, and neighborhood factors associated with risk factors for gun homicides and suicides. The data will be made available to researchers and the public through multiple dissemination tools, including policy briefs on gun issues in key population groups: youth and young adults, immigrants, LGBT, and veterans.

Ponce, the principal investigator of CHIS and a health researcher with more than 25 years of experience, recognizes the complexity of gun violence and its impact on the health of the nation’s communities.

“Taking a public health approach is vital in addressing the root causes of violence and how they contribute to the devastating premature deaths of thousands of people in the U.S. each year,” Ponce said.

Collaborative Director Andrew Morral noted that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, both sales of firearms and deaths from gun violence have increased across the country—underscoring the urgent need for rigorous research that can inform effective gun policy. “We must answer the question: What works and what doesn’t to reduce gun violence?” Morral said. “Studies like Dr. Ponce and Dr. Rodriguez' fill a critical gap in our understanding of gun violence and how to prevent it.”

“We selected these research projects based first and foremost on their scientific rigor,” said Frank M. Clark, chair of the Research Advisory Committee and past chair of the Chicago Board of Education. “That is the only way to generate the evidence necessary for informing policy that both protects the public and preserves the rights of responsible gun owners.”

Gun violence is one of the five leading causes of death among Americans aged 1-64 and yet, compared with other major causes of death and injury, the federal government has invested far less in research to prevent gun violence than for other leading causes of death.

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