July 24, 2014

Experts: Gun Violence Prevention Requires Public Health Approach

Call for using research data to create effective prevention

WASHINGTON — Preventing gun violence will require a scientific public health approach and recognition of the limits of predicting individual cases of violence, according to experts slated to speak at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention. 

The experts will discuss how gun violence disproportionately affects different populations and results in consequences such as suicide, homicide and unintentional shootings. They will also address how mental illness is — and is not — related to gun violence. The session, scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 7, will feature members of a panel that produced APA’s 2013 report, Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy, and were on an APA task force appointed to develop a policy statement, which was adopted in February by APA’s governing Council of Representatives.  

Areas of discussion and presenters: 

  • Gun Policy: Susan B. Sorenson, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania, will focus on the unnecessary dichotomy between gun violence prevention and gun rights. Science-based public health approaches to reduce firearm-related homicide, suicide and unintentional shootings can take place without impeding individuals’ rights to own guns, according to APA’s policy. Sorenson will review how such approaches have reduced deaths and injuries associated with automobiles, toxic materials and other inherently risky products in households and communities. She will also talk about how the public and policymakers focus on gun homicide and assault despite suicide’s being the most common form of gun-related mortality.
  • Violence and Mental Health Services: Joel Dvoskin, PhD, of the University of Arizona College of Medicine, will point out that stigmatizing people with mental illness is counterproductive. APA’s policy calls for adequate mental health services to be broadly available, especially to people in crisis — who may or may not suffer from a serious mental illness — who may pose a risk to themselves or others. It also calls for raising public awareness of research about serious mental illness, which does not support the myth that people with serious mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit mass shootings.
  • Gun Violence Complexity and Disparity: Jacquelyn White, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, will provide details about the complex and disproportionate effects gun violence has on specific populations and the need for diverse prevention strategies. Research has shown that patterns of injury and death from guns differ according to age, sex, race, ethnicity, geographic region, education, employment status, work conditions and income level. 
  • The Public Health Approach: Robert Kinscherff, PhD, JD, of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, will outline steps toward a research-informed public health model that includes aspects of product safety and public education, as well steps to be taken at universal, selective and indicated levels of prevention and intervention. APA’s policy recognizes that while there are research-based methods for identification and management of high-risk situations, no current risk assessment method accurately predicts which individuals will commit gun violence. 
  • Barriers to Research: Gary Gottfredson, PhD, of the University of Maryland College Park, will identify barriers to data collection about gun acquisition, distribution and use while safeguarding individual privacy. He will also address restrictions on funding and the need to maintain a cadre of psychologists trained to conduct rigorous research and program evaluation related to gun violence. APA’s policy calls for eliminating political and fiscal barriers to achieving a comprehensive public health approach to prevent and respond to gun violence.

Session: “Gun Violence Prediction and Prevention — APA Policy Development, Dissemination and Implementation,” Conversation Hour 1088, Thursday, Aug. 7, 9-9:50 a.m. EDT, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Street Level, Room 151B, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., NW, Washington, D.C.

Contacts: 

  • Robert Kinscherff: The Public Health Approach, (617) 327-6777 x 1254
  • Susan B. Sorenson: Gun Policy
  • Jacquelyn White: Gun Violence Complexity and Disparity
  • Joel Dvoskin: Violence and Mental Health Services, (520) 906-0366 (cell)
  • Gary Gottfredson: Barriers to Research

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 130,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.