Less than a week after the National Rifle Association told doctors to “stay in their lane,” a team of University of Michigan researchers for Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens launched a new website on firearm safety in an effort to prevent firearm injuries and deaths among adolescents.
FACTS is a group based at the University comprised of over 30 researchers and doctors from across the U.S. committed to eliminating youth injuries and deaths from firearms, while respecting federal and state laws that entitle individuals to gun ownership. According to FACTS, over 41,000 children or youth are injured or killed by firearms each year.
Rebecca Cunningham, FACTS principal investigator and professor of emergency medicine, explained that despite the frequency of adolescent injury or death from firearms, data or research on this issue is often difficult to find. The FACTS website was created to prompt new discussion on firearm safety and to store research in a single database to make it easier for other researchers and, essentially, all members of the community to quickly find facts on this topic.
“Five years ago, there were probably twelve senior researchers in the country who had any knowledge on firearm injuries specifically — that’s not enough,” Cunningham said. “We need to get the field of research really going again on this.”
Cunningham believes research on firearm safety has been hindered because of the highly politicized nature of the topic. She explained that a fatal reason why the rate of youth injuries and deaths from firearms continues to increase in the nation is because the issue is continuously looked at as a gun control debate and not a public health issue.
“This is a gun safety issue, not a gun control issue,” Cunningham said. “We fully respect the rights of Americans to have their Second Amendment rights.”
Cunningham compared gun safety to car safety by explaining that researchers have been able to reduce the number of driving fatalities without reducing the number of cars on the road. She believes that distinguishing between gun safety and gun control is key to preventing future youth firearm deaths and injuries.
“Using the word gun control frames it as a control thing — it sets it up all wrong,” Cunningham said. “It’s a gun safety issue, the same way we talk about pool safety, the same way we talk about hot water safety, the same way we talk about burn, fire safety.”
Marc Zimmerman, the Marshall H. Becker Collegiate Professor of Public Health, co-leads FACTS with Cunningham and Patrick Carter, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University. Zimmerman echoed Cunningham’s statements and explained firearm safety is often framed incorrectly. He explained FACTS is only interested in preventing firearm deaths and injuries and hopes their research can unite everyone.
“Unfortunately firearm discussions have become so politicized that it becomes difficult to focus attention on safety,” Zimmerman said. “We certainly hope that we can bring together people from all sorts of backgrounds and beliefs to agree on the need for empirically-based firearm research and prevention so we can implement strategies to get firearm morbidity and mortality off the list of the top causes of injury and death among children and teens.”
Zimmerman said firearm injuries require more research in order to better inform practitioners, parents and researchers. He believes education is one piece of the equation in preventing firearm injuries and death, but not all of it.
“We need more research to be able to tailor messaging, identify the most effective way to educate people and what to educate them about, to study policies that are effective to reduce gun violence, to study the technologies available to make guns safer,” Zimmerman said.
LSA freshman Jade Ebels, a member of the Michigan Community Scholars Program, helped to organize a panel of youth gun-control activists to speak to other MCSP students on campus.
“Gun violence is an issue that has gotten a large amount of attention recently, and is something that a lot of students are interested in, which is why we thought that having this panel would be beneficial to the students, and we believe that their experiences can be applied to a broader range of issues as well,” Ebels said.
Ebels said she believes the mission of FACTS to inform the community about gun safety, and more education overall, will be the key to preventing adolescent deaths from firearms.
“I think the project will be an interesting and important addition to the conversation,” Ebels said. “A lot of deaths from firearms could be prevented if proper safety was being used around them, and I think that educating more people about gun safety is an important step towards reducing the problems.”