appreciate the value of research-driven policy making and law,”
says Kinscherff, who chaired the seven-member task force that
developed the resolution.
For example, research has shown that laws that hold adults
criminally liable for unsafe storage of firearms around children
can reduce adolescent suicides (JAMA, 2004). Community,
family and individual interventions that promote healthy social
development and reduce aggressive behavior among children
and adolescents are also promising, according to APA’s Panel of
Experts Report Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention and Policy,
released last year. And empirically derived risk-assessment
actuarial tools and structured clinical judgment approaches
can improve violence risk assessment and management, while
behavioral threat assessment approaches involving case-specific
responses when someone makes or poses a threat of violence
are also evidence-based ways to prevent violence (see article in
the December Monitor).
But there’s still much unknown about what works to prevent
gun violence. That’s why the resolution calls for policy changes
that make studying it easier, such as by lifting state and federal
restrictions on collecting data on incidents of firearm violence.
In 1996, for example, Congress restricted the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention from funding any research that
may be construed as promoting gun control. That stipulation
was expanded to the National Institutes of Health in 2012.
What’s more, there’s no universal system for collecting data on
U.S. gun violence; the National Violent Death Reporting System
includes data from only 16 states.
“We don’t know what might be possible, what psychology
might do to prevent gun violence because the research hasn’t
been done to develop and evaluate those types of interventions,”
says Clinton Anderson, PhD, director of APA’s Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns Office, who served as the
task force’s staff liaison.
The resolution also addresses how firearm violence affects
different populations. For example, adolescent males and older
white men have high rates of suicide by guns, young black males
in lower-income urban areas are at the greatest risk of gun-related homicides and women are most likely to be victims of
firearm violence by intimate partners.
To address such disparities, the resolution calls for
interventions at multiple levels. Among higher-risk groups such
as those with depressive symptoms, for example, treatment that
promotes coping skills can be helpful. Among populations most at
risk for gun violence, such as young gang members, interventions
that teach conflict resolution strategies can help solve problems
before they escalate into violence, the resolution suggests.
Addressing mental health issues among people with both
severe mental illness and immediate intense psychological crises
is also key, the resolution states, since firearm-related suicides
account for most U.S. gun deaths. This contrasts with the public
perception that mass shootings cause a significant portion
of gun-related deaths. While a 2013 Congressional Research
Service report estimates that 547 people have died in public
mass shootings over the past 30 years, 19,766 died from gun-
related suicides in 2011 alone, according to the National Center
for Vital Statistics.
“There’s a good research basis for advocating for mental
health services that meet the needs not only of people with
severe mental illness, but also people who don’t have a severe
mental illness but who might be in an intense emotional crisis
and may have access to firearms,” Kinscherff says.
Ultimately, the resolution emphasizes a science-based,
comprehensive public health approach to firearm violence
prevention. Task force member Susan B. Sorenson, PhD, of the
University of Pennsylvania, hopes taking that approach will
make gun violence prevention a future public health success
story, similar to reductions in car crashes due to a combination
of factors, including improved roads, better motor vehicle
engineering and modified traffic laws. “When people say, ‘Shall
we do this? Shall we do that?’ the answer is probably [yes to] all
of them,” she says. n
To read the resolution, go to www.apa.org/about/policy/firearms.
To read the APA report, Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention
and Policy, go to www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/gun-violence-prevention.aspx.
The members of the APA Policy Review Task
Force on the Prediction and Prevention of Gun
Chair: Robert T. Kinscherff, PhD, JD,
Massachusetts School of Professional
Joel A. Dvoskin, PhD, University of Arizona
Gary D. Gottfredson, PhD, University of
W. Rodney Hammond, PhD, ABMP, University
Eric S. Mankowski, PhD, Portland State
Susan B. Sorenson, PhD, University of
Jacquelyn W. White, PhD, University of North
Carolina at Greensboro (emerita).