Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston will be at the forefront of an emerging field of study after receiving a $2 million grant to study ways to reduce firearm violence, according to officials behind the project.
Nationally, the field of firearm statistics has languished since a 1996 provision into a government spending bill that prohibited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control from funding firearm research, according to Andrew Morral, a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corp. and the director of the national collaborative on gun violence research.
“It is a case where this is a rapidly-growing field of study,” he said. “There’s started to be some money to do the work, and there’s a lot of interest in solving problems.”
As part of the study, researchers in Galveston will expand prior research that has been ongoing for around 15 years, according to Jeff Temple, founding director of the center for violence prevention at the medical branch. That study surveyed 1,000 people on a wide swath of questions, from mental health and violence to parenting and other issues.
With the additional funding, surveyors will now ask the known firearm owners in the group questions about their choice to own a gun, Temple explained.
“We’ll be able to interview them and ask basic information about how they came to own a firearm,” he said.
The grant lasts for three years and the survey will continue for several years, Temple said.
The study is part of a growing new field, made possible by the federal government’s decision in 2019 to expand funding for firearm research, Morral said. In 1996, the so-called Dickey Amendment meant there was little money available for the endeavor.
The lack of money virtually eliminated costly data collection, Morral explained. Simultaneously, the federal government stopped tracking national gun ownership rates as part of its national survey on risk factors starting around 2004.
The combination of lack of research and available statistics means most researchers are starting from scratch, Morral said.
“Even to this day, research papers are using that 2004 estimate because it’s the best we have,” Morral said.
Crazy, I know. There was some money set aside by Congress in 2019 for firearm violence studies, of which this is part. I don’t expect much action to come of this, as we don’t have the right state government for that, but at least we can learn something. That’s better than what we had before.