Public Engagement & Impact
Auto accidents and firearms are the leading causes of death for children and adolescents in the United States. But while the rate of auto accident deaths largely has trended down over the past two decades, thanks to research and safety measures, the same cannot be said for gun deaths.
For years there was scant research on firearms safety, thanks to an interpretation of a federal law that led to very little funding on the subject. But that’s changing, and now a funded, national research center based at the University of Michigan is aimed at improving firearms safety.
The Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium (FACTS) takes an injury prevention approach — not a gun regulation approach — to lowering the incidents of preventable death and injury.
Two of the leaders of FACTS — Dr. Rebecca Cunningham, an emergency medicine physician and incoming U-M interim vice president of research, and School of Public Health professor Marc Zimmerman — joined the Michigan Minds podcast for a comprehensive discussion on how researchers are investigating ways to reduce injury and deaths by firearms.
Zimmerman said it’s high time for the U.S. to take this issue seriously.
“Something like eight kids between the ages of 1 and 18 die of a firearm injury every day in this country, and we have to do better than that,” he said.
Cunningham said the focus will be on decreasing death and injury, not decreasing firearms. She noted that the rate of motor vehicle deaths has decreased, while the number of vehicles on the road has increased.
“The focus is on decreasing injuries the same way we want to decrease drownings, not decrease swimming pools, and the same way we want to decrease car crashes, not decrease cars,” said Cunningham, who has more than 20 years of experience as an emergency medicine physician at U-M and Hurley Medical Center in Flint. “We would like to decrease firearms injuries and there’s very good precedent across the injury prevention literature that we can decrease those injuries without necessarily decreasing firearms or addressing Second Amendment rights at all.”
There are a lot of knowledge gaps on firearms safety due to the lack of research in recent decades, scientists say. Data are incomplete, the type of safety messages that would resonate with families is unknown, and the best way to address differences across types of urban, rural, and family environments needs to be explored. Researchers also need to evaluate whether current interventions — such as active shooter school drills — even work.
“What we don’t know is miles and miles longer than what we do know,” Cunningham said.
But that’s why they took a chance at leading an effort to get the best minds from 12 universities and health systems together to tackle the problem.