U-M to establish new Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention

June 4, 2021
Written By:
Alex Piazza

Pistol with a trigger lock. Image credit: iStock

The University of Michigan will launch a new Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention to generate knowledge and advance innovative solutions that reduce firearm injury, a public health crisis that leads to more than 100 deaths per day across the United States.

“Firearm violence led to nearly 40,000 deaths nationwide last year, and the stark reality that we all must come to grips with is that this public health crisis is unfortunately growing more intense every year,” said Rebecca Cunningham, U-M vice president for research and the William G. Barsan Collegiate Professor of Emergency Medicine.

“We have an incredible opportunity here with this new institute to really address the problem head on through collaborative research and scholarship. By partnering with rural and urban community leaders and other key stakeholders, we can leverage our expertise and resources so that together we achieve our common goals of decreasing firearm injury and death, all while respecting Americans’ Second Amendment rights.”

A $10 million university commitment over the next five years will support the institute, which launched as a presidential initiative in 2019 to formulate and answer critical questions around safety and violence.

The university is uniquely positioned to address this crisis because its researchers have secured more federal funding to study firearm injury prevention than any other academic institution nationwide, Cunningham said.

More Michigan residents have died as a result of firearms than from opioids over the past decade, but political polarization around this issue has resulted in limited science, minimal research funding and a dearth of faculty scholars focused on this field of study.

To address this challenge, the institute will explore firearm injuries across the lifespan, including suicide, community and school-based violence, domestic violence, peer violence and police violence, as well as disparities in susceptibility to firearm injuries by race, gender, geographic location and socioeconomic status.

A research and scholarship core will aim to foster scholarly collaboration across disciplines, seed innovative projects focused on research, scholarship and creative practice, and prepare teams for external funding opportunities to support future firearm injury prevention research.

The institute will educate and train a diverse, next generation of faculty and students with opportunities that include new firearm-related courses revolving around epidemiology, health disparities and health equity, interventions and policy analysis.

Funding also will initially support a national search for at least three new faculty hires, five postdoctoral fellows and multiple graduate student research assistants—all of whom will explore firearm research and scholarship through distinct disciplines, from social sciences and the arts to engineering and public health.

“The Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention will help us add to the science and data we are marshaling as a public university to save lives and prevent harm,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel. “I applaud the many students and faculty researchers who are devoting their intellectual talents to solving this horrific public health crisis.”

Professors Marc Zimmerman and Patrick Carter, who have studied firearm violence for more than a decade, will lead the institute as its inaugural co-directors. Together, Zimmerman and Carter have authored nearly 350 scholarly publications on violence and firearm injury prevention. They also are on the leadership team directing the Firearm Safety among Children and Teens consortium, funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Zimmerman, the Marshall H. Becker Collegiate Professor of Public Health and a professor of psychology, directs the Prevention Research Center and the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center—both housed at the School of Public Health and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New research led by Zimmerman shows the engagement of local residents in community greening efforts can lead to a substantial reduction in firearm violence.

Carter, an associate professor of emergency medicine and associate professor of health behavior and health education, directs the university’s CDC-funded Injury Prevention Center. Older adult firearm suicides account for more than 30% of all firearm fatalities each year, and so new research led by Carter explores whether older adult firearm owners discuss safe storage with their physician. His findings reveal that less than 5% of older adult firearm owners had been asked by their physician during the prior year about firearm storage.

The institute, which reports to the Office of the Vice President for Research, will appoint deans and faculty to its executive and advisory committees so they can provide guidance on strategic priorities and foster collaboration across disciplines. An external stakeholder committee also will ensure a diversity of nonpartisan perspectives beyond academia, and its members may include firearm owners, religious and school leaders, law enforcement, and rural and urban community groups.