Gun Violence Research

Why is gun violence a public health issue?

gun violence graphics

Every 4 minutes in the United States, someone is injured or killed by a firearm. Our research helps policymakers and public health experts understand the patterns of violence and unintentional injury and who is most at risk. With better data, policymakers can take steps to save lives and reduce injuries.

"From the public health perspective, we need to collect data,” says Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, the UW's Bartley Dobb Professor for the Study and Prevention of Violence. “Data can tell us the magnitude or size of the problem, as well as the pattern of the problem, and that’s how you make policy decisions, with informed choice. That’s exactly what we’ve done for car collisions. We’ve made great progress. Same for smoking and tobacco. These are examples of success and triumph for public health. Here, we can do the same."

Nearly 40 years of research on firearm injuries and violence.

Since the 1980s, the UW has been conducting research on firearm injury prevention and violence. Some of our pioneering research found that in homes where firearms were kept, the risk of homicide or suicide increased significantly. Since then, there has been very little federal funding overall for studies into firearm injury research. The lack of funds has left gaps in research.

Local, state and private organizations in Washington state have recently stepped up to promote a robust research agenda:

  • The City of Seattle funds groundbreaking research at Harborview Medical Center.
  • Grandmothers Against Gun Violence contributed $20,000 to sponsor several studies at SPH.
  • The Washington State Legislature approved $1 million in funding for UW HIPRC gun violence research in the 2019-2021 biennium.
  • Kaiser Permanente is supporting a clinical research study at the UW as part of a $2 million dollar pledge to prevent gun injuries and deaths.

Firearm violence affects Americans on a daily basis. A public health approach to studying it is imperative for reducing its heavy burden in our communities.

Research with impact

In 2018, UW researchers found that most firearm owners in Washington state did not follow firearm safe-storage practices. Storing firearms unlocked and loaded increases risks of firearm-related injuries and deaths.

  • The City of Seattle cited this research before creating an ordinance requiring safe storage and imposing fines if firearms were not stored safely.

In another study, UW investigators found that people admitted to the hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound were 21 times more likely than other patients to be shot again. 

  • Now, these investigators are evaluating an intervention at the Harborview Medical Center that seeks to improve the health and well-being of gunshot wound victims.
Adolescents who experienced any bullying were three times more likely to report gun access.
Bullied students and firearms

School-age adolescents who experience bullying are three times more likely to report access to a loaded gun.

22,000 firearm suicides occur annually in the U.S.
Suicide Prevention

One in four Americans receive formal firearm trainings; fewer learn about suicide prevention.

Pistol with gun lock
Firearm storage

Sixty-three percent of firearm-owning households in Washington state do not store their firearms locked and unloaded

One in four Americans receive formal firearm trainings, fewer learn about suicide prevention (LINK)

  • Only about three in five U.S. firearm owners have received any formal gun training.

  • 15 percent (one in seven) of the study participants who were gun owners reported having received information about suicide prevention.

  • More men (66 percent) than women (49 percent) received formal training. 

  • Those who reported buying a gun for personal protection were less likely to have received training than those who owned a gun for activities like hunting or sporting.

Depression, dementia risks, and unsafe firearm storage raise concerns for older adults in firearm-owning households (LINK)

  • Nearly a quarter of adults aged 65 and older in Washington state live in households that store their firearms unlocked and loaded.

  • Nationally, 91 percent of firearm deaths among older adults were suicides.

Suicide more prevalent than homicide in the US, but most Americans don’t know it (LINK)

  • Analyzing data from the 2015 National Firearms Survey, results indicated that although suicide was more common than homicide in all 50 states, the majority of respondents did not identify it as such.

For households with children, alcohol misuse and unsafely stored firearms can be a dangerous mix (LINK)

  • In firearm-owning households, 67 percent of children living with an adult who misused alcohol were exposed to at least one unsafely stored firearm, compared with 51 percent of children living with an adult who reported no alcohol misuse.   

Most gun-owning households in Washington State do not safely store firearms (LINK)

  • 63 percent of firearm-owning households in Washington state do not store their firearms locked and unloaded.

Safe gun storage improves when free storage devices supplied (LINK)

  • Gun owners are given a safe storage device and some counseling, they will likely practice safe firearm storage. In cases where gun owners are provided counseling only, the interventions don’t work as well.

Suicidal teens have easy access to firearms (LINK)

  • More than 40 percent of American teenagers who lived in a home with a gun had easy access to it.

Increased gun violence risk among bullied students (LINK)

  • School-age adolescents who experience bullying are three times more likely to report access to a loaded gun.

  • A closer look at these results revealed that those who experienced traditional bullying (e.g., verbal, physical) were two times more likely to report access to a loaded gun without adult permission. 

  • Students who experienced cyberbullying (e.g. email, SMS, social media) were almost three times more likely to report access, and students who experienced both types of bullying were six times more likely.

Firearm homicide rate higher in U.S. counties with greater income inequality (LINK)

  • Counties in the United States with greater gaps between rich and poor have a higher rate of homicide deaths involving firearms.

Study: 3 million Americans carry loaded handguns daily (LINK)

  • An estimated 3 million adult American handgun owners carry a firearm loaded and on their person on a daily basis, and 9 million do so on a monthly basis.

  • 80 percent of surveyed handgun owners who carried their handgun had a concealed-carry permit.

  • 66 percent said they always carry their handguns concealed, compared with 10 percent who said they always carry their weapons openly.

Ali Rowhani Rahbar Photo

Ali Rowhani-Rahbar

An associate professor of epidemiology and a trained physician, Rowhani-Rahbar is the Bartley Dobb Professor for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the UW. He has led numerous firearm-violence studies since 2015 and leads the violence prevention section at the UW’s Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center in Seattle.

Fred Rivara Photo

Frederick Rivara

A professor of pediatrics and adjunct professor of epidemiology, Rivara was a pioneering researcher on firearm injuries whose first published work in this field, “Handguns and children: a dangerous mix,” appeared in 1982.

See more people researching firearm research at UW.