Expert discusses importance of research on firearms safety


Watch her video interview here:

ANN ARBOR-- University of Michigan announced a new website that aims to share what’s known – and what experts still need to find out – about guns and people under age 19. The site offers free access to data on the issue, as well as training for health care providers and others.

The site is first product of Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens (FACTS), a federally funded national effort that aims to fill the knowledge gap about firearms and young people, and make up for a ‘lost generation’ of research on the issue. The effort is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Rebecca Cunningham, co-leader of FACTS and an emergency physician and associate vice president for research at U-M, discussed the announcement.

Q: There’s been some controversy recently regarding whether doctors should be involved in this kind of discussions. Should they, as the NRA puts it, ‘stay in their lane’?

Cunningham: We don't find studying gun safety controversial  at all. As the hashtag noted this past week, safety is what we do for our patients. This is just one of another type of safety that we need to engage in. So it's not controversial at all. I heard some of the youth this past weekend say ‘it shouldn't be radical for us to think about why we would want our friends and families to not be shot or how we could keep them from being shot’.

This really isn't a radical concept at all. We just want research to be able to do some very boring work with some P values and some data sets and some questions in the same way that we've done research on many other social issues and medical issues.

Q: Should doctors and researchers be involved in issues such as gun violence despite it being so political?

Cunningham: Gun violence prevention research is not a political issue. This is not about Second Amendment rights. This is about how we can have safer families. The consortium does not aim to change the number of guns in the United States. We expect fully that Americans will have their rights the same way that we have the right to drive cars. We want people to be as safe as possible and the research of the consortium will help keep our families and children safer.

Q: Can you tell us about the FACTS consortium and the website you announced today?

Cunningham: Sure. The FACTS consortium is looking to jumpstart the capacity on research on firearms injuries and deaths in this country, bringing together researchers who really have core expertise in this area to work together to help identify the questions that are the most pressing to be answered, that we should put resources into immediately so that we can lead to the next best questions and solutions and also to train the next generation of researchers.

Our new FACTS website ( is one of the research resources that we've put out as part of the consortium’s work focused on reducing childhood and adolescent death by firearm. This website has a whole host of new resources on it. It shows a number of datasets that are already exist that researchers can look through to answer new research questions that may not have been answered prior. They can connect to other researchers who are doing good work on this topic. They can see there's also training resources if they want examples of how to talk to patients about sensitive topics like guns in their homes. There's model examples of that on the Web site as well.

Q: What’s the value of doing this type of research?

Cunningham: It's important to have research on firearms and on guns safety because otherwise we don't evidence have based solutions. Without data and research we are just guessing who is at most risk for injury, what interventions work. Americans are asking if they should arm teachers, or how to have kids who are getting bullied by their friends not retaliate with guns. These are answerable research questions. The same way we're not going to find solutions to problems about car crashes or how to be safer in cars without research. We're not going to find answers to what to do next to keep our patients and families safer unless we ask clear research questions and examine evidence and data to that effect. Without this we could potentially spend a lot of money and resources on solutions that are found to not work, or worse actually have other unintended consequences.

We've spent millions of dollars investing in safer roads, investing in the best safety technology, in the best ways for us to see who is too intoxicated to drive and how to help prevent car crash All of that research can be done the same way for firearm violence. It just has not been done yet.