In 2022, firearm violence continued to be an issue at the forefront of conversations among policymakers and the public alike. The year brought historic decisions by the United States Supreme Court about gun rights and high profile mass shootings both in New York and across the country, as well as concerns ranging from the disproportional impact of gun violence on communities of color to firearm suicides. In response, our team at the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium (RGVRC), a group of more than 50 researchers from eight states and territories, sought to bring an evidence-based understanding to these issues and events. Here’s a look back on the work the RGVRC put forward in 2022.
Julianna Caruso (NY) kicked off our research portfolio this past year with Insights from the Gun Violence Data Dashboard. Caruso’s piece analyzed data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Underlying Cause of Death database to provide a comprehensive look at firearm violence in the United States over twenty years (2000-2020). With the most recent data update, the dashboard set the scene for the work of the RGVRC in 2022, finding that gun deaths were at an all-time high, with the increase being driven by homicides. With 2021 and now 2022 on pace to maintain these elevated levels of gun deaths, understanding the historical trends was an important starting place for conversations on prevention and response to the gun violence crisis.
In March, Consortium member Robert J. Spitzer (NY) provided a critical examination of the potential consequences of the impending settlement between families of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and Remington Arms, the manufacturer of the firearm used in the attack. The landmark settlement, according to Spitzer, would lead other firearm manufacturers to reassess their marketing strategies, particularly as families of other mass shooting victims (e.g., Parkland) filed similar lawsuits that could end with settlements based on the same precedent.
In April, Jacob D. Charles of Duke University’s Center for Firearms Law joined the RGVRC as a special contributor. Charles’ work with the Consortium evaluated attempts by Missouri to nullify federal gun laws. Passing the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA), Missouri joined more than a dozen other states to broaden statutory gun rights and minimize policies, such as taxes and fees, registration, or tracking of firearms, that would impact ownership. The passage of SAPA laws in Missouri and other states, while challenged in court by the Department of Justice, have produced unintended consequences, such as creating confusion among residents seeking to sell firearms or accessories that still fall under the purview of federal laws like the National Firearms Act of 1934.
National Gun Violence Awareness Month (June 2022) came on the heels of not only increasing firearm homicide rates but three high-profile public mass shootings: in the New York City subway, at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. On June 3, which marks National Gun Violence Awareness Day, RGVRC interim executive director Jaclyn Schildkraut (NY) and member Michael Anestis (NJ) held a Twitter spaces conversation about how the nation approaches the issue of mass shootings and how changing the way we frame these events can help to implement more effective gun policies. The conversation was re-released later in the month as part of the Policy Outsider podcast series at the Rockefeller Institute of Government. Schildkraut also authored a research blog examining the pre-attack behaviors of public mass shooters that follow along a path to intended violence. Understanding the behaviors that precipitate such incidents can lead to more identifiable opportunities for identification, intervention, and ultimately prevention of these tragedies.
Consortium member Daniel Semenza (NJ) authored a research blog in June that argued for a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence in the United States. Cultivating such an approach, as he noted, requires the acceptance of a critical fact: that more guns equals more deaths. This impact is seen at various levels: across homes with firearms, cities with greater availability of guns in certain neighborhoods, across states with more permissive gun laws, and across nations. The United States has one of the highest rates of per capita gun ownership, but it also has exponentially higher rates of firearm homicide and suicide compared to other high-income countries.
At the end of June, two landmark moments in the conversation about guns dominated the news cycle. On June 23, the US Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen struck down New York’s law that required a license to carry concealed weapons in public. The case that marked the first significant Second Amendment decision by the nation’s highest court in ten years. Just 24 hours later, Congress passed a bipartisan gun safety bill, which President Joseph Biden signed into law the following day. While the new legislation strengthened federal gun laws, the Supreme Court decision moved firearm safety in the opposite direction, in what Consortium member Robert Spitzer (NY) called a collision of gun policy.
In July, the Consortium took an in-depth look at community gun violence. The RGVRC held its first webinar of the year that welcomed panelists Deanna Logan (New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice), Jerome Brown (New York SNUG), Isabel Rojas (Newburgh’s Group Violence Intervention strategic initiative), and Consortium member Jeffrey Butts (Research and Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice) to discuss community gun violence interventions. Ahead of the webinar, the RGVRC also published a primer to contextualize the issue of community gun violence and its impacts.
The RGVRC also welcomed guest contributor Brooklynn Hitchens of the University of Maryland as she authored a research blog based on her work on gun violence in low-income, urban Black communities. Termed “second killings,” the piece explores the disproportionate—and often overlooked—impact of firearm violence on Black women and girls who are more often exposed to community gun violence and are more likely to be homicide survivors than white women. This important piece not only draws on data about the disparate effects of gun violence, but also incorporates the too often excluded voices of women impacted by the violence.
As schools prepared to return to the classroom in the fall following the Uvalde shooting, RGVRC researchers sought to contextualize the effects of gun violence in schools and on children in a four-part series. The first piece from Consortium members Jason R. Silva (NJ) and Emily A. Greene-Colozzi (MA) explored what is known about and what can be learned from mass shootings that are foiled or that fail. The second piece of the series, authored by RGVRC interim executive director Jaclyn Schildkraut (NY), examined the effectiveness of lockdown drills, a practice used to help reduce injuries and fatalities when shootings or other threats occur inside of schools. Although mass shootings in schools receive considerable attention in the media and among the public, they are the rarest form of gun violence to impact educational institutions. The third piece in the series, from Consortium members Joshua Freilich (NY) and Emily A. Greene-Colozzi (MA) with co-authors Steven M. Chermak, Nadine M. Connell, and Brent R. Klein, situates these events as part of their new database project, The American School Shooting Study. Members Amanda B. Nickerson (NY) and Sonali Rajan (NY) round out the series with a comprehensive look at the effects of firearm violence on children. Authors from these pieces also joined together for a webinar to discuss how to keep schools safe from firearm violence, the research briefs for which were re-released in December as a compendium.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and with more than half of suicides occurring as the result of firearm-related injuries, it was imperative that the RGVRC examine this important issue. RGVRC member and director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center Michael Anestis joined the Consortium’s director for a Twitter Spaces conversation discussing the risk factors associated with firearm-related suicide and the policies and tools available to mitigate these incidents. That conversation later was released as an episode of the Policy Outsider podcast. Dr. Anestis also authored an accompanying research blog that explored preventing firearm suicides by focusing on access and storage.
In October, the RGVRC released an updated version of its policy brief on privately made firearms, better known as ghost guns. In April 2022, the Biden administration introduced new rules designed to regulate ghost guns in a manner similar to traditional firearms and in August, following several legal challenges, the guidance took effect. The brief explores these new rules and other changes while highlighting the increasing use of ghost guns in crimes across the country.
October also represents National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the RGVRC welcomed special contributor Lisa Geller from the John’s Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions to explore the deadly connection between domestic violence and firearms. Each month in the United States, an estimated sixty women are shot and killed by an intimate partner and thousands more are threatened, shot, or shot at with a gun. Geller provides four key ways in which policymakers can work to prevent gun violence and domestic violence both independently and in connection with one another.
Taken together, the work of the RGVRC in 2022 provides policymakers with the evidence needed to better understand firearm violence both broadly and in its various forms. This has important implications for the development of policies designed to both prevent and respond to gun violence. The Consortium’s efforts to make this work accessible to the broader public helps ensure conversations about firearm violence in the nation are held in productive, factual, and inclusive ways. We look forward to building on these efforts in 2023. Stay tuned.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jaclyn Schildkraut is the interim executive director of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government and an associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oswego.