On the latest episode of Policy Outsider, guests Joseph Popcun, Rockefeller Institute director of policy and practice, and Nicholas Simons, project coordinator at the Institute, discuss the role of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium in finding and developing policy to reduce gun violence.

A recent surge in shooting incidents following months of COVID-19 lockdown in metropolitan areas around New York State. As a cause of death, gun violence receives far less research funding than other leading causes. Lack of federal funding for firearm fatality research over the last 20 years has made it difficult for policymakers to develop targeted, effective policy for reducing gun violence. Popcun and Simons share how the Consortium aims to fill that void by orienting gun violence researchers toward the evidence and data needs of practitioners and policymakers. By focusing attention on gun violence as a policy problem, the Consortium helps state and local governments pursue and executive effective solutions to reduce and prevent firearm-involved homicides, suicides, and injuries.


Joseph Popcun, Director of Policy and Practice, Rockefeller Institute of Government

Nicholas Simons, Project Coordinator, Rockefeller Institute of Government

  • Transcript

    Transcript was generated using AI software and may contain errors. 

    Alexander Morse 00:03

    Thanks for tuning in to Policy Outsider. I’m your host Alex Morse. I want to take this time to provide a quick update on today’s episode. The following episode was recorded in February of this year before the COVID-19 public health emergency began eclipsing all other policymaking priorities. However, recent increases in firearm involved violence have placed gun violence front and center on the policy agenda of state and local government officials. In New York, shooting incidents and victims have significantly increased in New York City and other metropolitan areas, including Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. This podcast highlights that gun violence remains a persistent public policy problem and demands the attention of leaders at every level of government. By focusing attention on gun violence as a policy problem, the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium here at the Rockefeller Institute of Government helps state and local governments pursue and execute effective solutions to reduce and prevent firearm involved homicides, suicides, and injuries. And now we join our previously recorded episode of Policy Outsider with Joe Popcun, director of practice and policy, and Nick Simons, project coordinator at the Rockefeller Institute.

    Alexander Morse 01:49

    I’m here with Joe Popcun, director of policy and practice here at the Institute, and Nick Simons, project coordinator here at the Institute as well. Joe and Nick are spearheading a number of different research projects and creating policy tools that will help improve our understanding of what are effective gun policies, as well as examining recently released gun data from the Center for Disease Control, CDC for short. But before we get into what you two have been working on here at the Institute, let’s start with some background. Joe?

    Joseph Popcun 02:16

    Thanks very much, Alex. It’s great to be here. I’m from Syracuse originally, went to Syracuse University, and then went down and worked at the US Department of Homeland Security before coming back up here for grad school. I went to get my MPA from the Rockefeller College at the University at Albany. While I was there, I started working in the governor’s office, worked in the governor’s office for six years, before becoming a deputy commissioner at the Division of Criminal Justice Services. And now I’m here at Rockefeller. So my career trajectory has always been in public protection but mostly as a practitioner and now I’m building upon that with this new research expertise. So I’m looking forward to talking about that.

    Alexander Morse 03:00

    And, Nick, tell us a little bit about yourself.

    Nicholas Simons 03:01

    Thanks, Alex. I’m a dual degree holder from Rockefeller College, as Joe was saying. I did my the joint program there, which was a BA in political science and then an MPA, a Master’s, in public administration. I started my work at SUNY Government Relations doing education policy with them and doing some work with the executive chamber and legislation tracking there. I also worked in the president’s office during my time at the University at Albany. I’m from Binghamton originally, so I’m an upstate guy just like Joe but was able to parlay some of my education policy focus in the MPA program to getting involved here when the Consortium was getting off the ground in March of 2018. So I’ve been doing public safety research since that time, census research as well. So happy to be here. Happy to be with some fellow Rockefeller College grads.

    Alexander Morse 03:52

    Again, thanks to the both of you for getting here. I know the audience is going to be really interested in what some of the things you’ve been working on. But my very first question is on the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium, I don’t know how to pronounce it. Is it Consortee-um? Or is it Consorshum? I know that I’ve already said it differently as many times as I’ve said it.

    Nicholas Simons 04:11

    Yeah, I’m a consorshum guy. But you know, to each their own.

    Joseph Popcun 04:14

    Yeah, I would say consorshum. Again, that just might be my upstate New York accent kicking in a little bit.

    Nicholas Simons 04:20

    Wait, so you say consortee-um then?

    Alexander Morse 04:22

    I say consorteeum.

    Nicholas Simons 04:23


    Alexander Morse 04:24

    But no one’s corrected me. I just hear it differently. And it’s like Roo-sevelt, Roh-sevelt. I don’t know what you do. I just mimic whoever says it last maybe.

    Nicholas Simons 04:31

    Can we get into that for a second?

    Joseph Popcun 04:32


    Nicholas Simons 04:33

    I say Row-sevelt as well. But there’s two O’s. So it’s supposed to be Roo-sevelt? Right. Interesting.

    Joseph Popcun 04:41

    We’ll have to take a trip down to FDRs home to settle this.

    Nicholas Simons 04:45

    New Hyde Park, right?

    Alexander Morse 04:46

    Not far away.

    Joseph Popcun 04:47

    Not that far away. Backyard.

    Nicholas Simons 04:48

    Quick Byzantine Empire joke. Wasn’t the capital of the Byzantine Empire Byzantium for a while?

    Joseph Popcun 04:54

    Yeah, it was.

    Nicholas Simons 04:55

    Consortee-um. Okay, fine. I’m on Alex’s side now. All right. I’m ready.

    Alexander Morse 04:59

    Well, thank you for clearing that up for me. I’m sure I’ll still mess it up throughout the podcast. But my follow up question to that is Nick, can you explain to us what the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium is?

    Nicholas Simons 05:09

    Sure, sure. It’s a group of interdisciplinary researchers from seven states and territories. When the first four governors came together to start the states for Gun Safety Coalition, which this research consortium was born out of, the governors from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, were later joined by governors from Puerto Rico, Delaware, and Massachusetts. As of now we have a pretty solid base of researchers from higher education institutions across those states that are focused on reducing firearm violence through evidence-based policy recommendations. Essentially, what the idea was, was for the states to fill the gap left by the federal government in gun violence research. What we endeavored to do at least was to make up for the lack of research funding. For a long time, at least the statistic I have is from 2007-2018, there was about $150 of research funding for every life lost in gun violence and the highest number is $35,000 for issues like like hypertension, so in terms of dollars committed to research per life loss. It’s an interesting comparison to say that one crisis is not necessarily equal to another crisis in terms of research funding, so we can get more into that later. But the initial idea of the Consortium was just to fill that that federal gap being left.

    Alexander Morse 06:30

    And you mentioned that you’ve been leading the Consortium for almost two years now. What are some things that you’ve published or put out?

    Nicholas Simons 06:35

    At the Rockefeller Institute, we focus in on on policy briefs, so shorter publications that end with policy-based recommendations that the public and policymakers alike can take back, if you’re the public, you’re interested in learning about them. If you’re if you’re a policymaker, you’re interested in implementing some of these recommendations to hopefully, in our case at least, slow the, reduce rather, the gun violence deaths in New York, but but also nationally. One of the more prevalent policy briefs was written by a team from Boston University headed by Michael Siegel, who’s a public health researcher. Most of his research is in tobacco but because gun violence is seen as a disease, it’s a very translatable body of work that he has. He has a database of state laws that he’s collected from, I think, back to 1991 all the way up to 2018. After having laws collected for all 50 states in the nation, he was able to do a regression analysis based on what laws were most effective in reducing firearm homicides over that time. For us, it was a really interesting piece because having a statistical regression analysis allows you to have very clear and concise policy recommendations that come out of it because there’s statistically significant data that you’re drawing those policy to. Apart from that, we’ve had some panel discussions here at the Institute. We’ve had other other blogs and policy briefs go out. One one that comes to mind, we had a panel discussion with with Robert Spitzer of SUNY Cortland, he’s the chair of their political science department, he did a panel on the intersection of of gun rights and gun laws. It was basically a gun policy 101 talk that we had here over a lunch for I think about 50 people. The idea being that we’re trying to educate the public but also educate elected officials to the extent they’re interested in what some of the issues are in the in the area.

    Alexander Morse 08:34

    And Joe, you were brought on here to look at gun violence and gun policy a little bit differently. Some of your work involves trying to bridge practice and policy of which the two don’t always get along. What are you looking to do here?

    Joseph Popcun 08:45

    So Alex, thank you very much for that question. One of the things that most attracted me about coming to the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium, was being able to work on the evidence base that informs policy and informs government action. In my prior role in the governor’s office, working with the Division of Criminal Justice Services, working with the State Police, we were often tasked with having to craft new policies, new programs to reduce gun crime and also reduce shootings and injuries, deaths, etc. One of the most talked about in New York State is the Gun Involved Violence Elimination Initiative give, which supports counties outside of New York City that comprise the majority of violent crime and provides them with technical assistance and funding to pursue evidence-based strategies. As well as the SNUG street outreach workers, which is guns spelled backwards, which addresses gun violence in the community as a health epidemic or a health crisis, and provides street outreach workers who go and resolve conflicts and disrupt that cycle of violence within communities. Now in this in this new position, I think it’s about building out the research base and making it responsive to the needs of policymakers who are trying to solve the conflicts in real time and the crisis in real time. Oftentimes, you’re in a position where you see increases incrementally or significantly in shootings in this particular area. You’re asked to go and think about what are the strategies they should pursue? What policies should they have on the books? What programs are needed? And you’re often in a position where you don’t have all the information, you don’t have the data, and you really need to be able to take action right away. The thought process here, and I think would be the direction of the Consortium, is thinking about the research that’s been conducted and compiled and shared, how to translate that to policymakers and also how to have that facilitate conversations between policymakers and the researchers to say, “these are the three areas we really want to know how to solve gun violence or to solve these crimes.”

    Nicholas Simons 10:58

    Yes, it’s kind of a reciprocal relationship. You want lawmakers to be able to come to researchers and say, “this is something that we’re interested in acting on, we need a great knowledge base, if it’s not already out there.” If it is, the researchers can show them where it is. But you also want the same relationship between researchers and lawmakers to be able to say, researchers come to lawmakers and “there’s a great body of research out here, why is it not being acted on?” Something like that.

    Joseph Popcun 11:22

    Right, exactly. And also the policy diffusion. We know, to your point about talking earlier about the partnerships with Massachusetts, we know something that’s working really well in Massachusetts that we want to bring into New York, that diffusion doesn’t always happen organically or overnight. So how do we start facilitating those conversations? That’s one of the areas where I think the Consortium really has a lot of leverage and power, is being able to share ideas, share research, share insights, across boundaries, across the seven states and territories.

    Nicholas Simons 11:55

    That’s actually what we found when we were actually growing the network of researchers in the early days was just that, as you go from state to state, a ton of these researchers have worked together on separate projects. Not just public health researchers working with public health researchers from different states, but working interdisciplinary in past studies in prior years. A lot of these folks that were coming together under the Consortium umbrella had already known each other for a good amount of time. One example is the chair of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, Charlie Branas, actually introduced me to Bernadette Hohl at Rutgers. She is now the head of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center, that’s headed at Rutgers. She wasn’t originally the one on the list of researchers identified when the Consortium was started with the initial governors coming in and showing buy-in but it just goes to show that the way that the network’s these folks already have make it easy to work within states, but it also makes it easy to build everyone up. It’s a very organic thing. Now that we’re all formalizing under centers and things like that, everyone already knows each other. There’s not a lot of hand holding, you need to do, at least in the research community on the early times, the only thing you really need to do is, to Joe’s point, connect them with lawmakers, facilitate that type of relationship, get them to the level of trust where they already are in the research community.

    Joseph Popcun 13:20

    I think that that’s a great point. And also, to Nick’s credit over the past two years, being able to grow the network, now I think we’re over where… How many institutions now, how many researchers, Nick?

    Nicholas Simons 13:34

    We’re over 50 researchers, and over 25, close to 30 institutions. And over over seven states and territories, that’s a lot. We’re covering public and private institutions in all states of of every corner.

    Alexander Morse 13:48

    And there’s still plans to expand and keep growing the research base?

    Nicholas Simons 13:51

    Yes, I mean, why not? The the idea is to have a researcher that works in any particular topic area that policymakers are interested in addressing. We don’t want to have policymakers come to us and say, “can you write about this particular issue,” and have to say, “no, we haven’t identified that researcher yet.” The idea is that we have a standing network of folks ready to provide those resources should they be asked.

    Joseph Popcun 14:13

    Now we have the Consortium at this critical mass of researchers and institutions, we’ve catalogued and compiled a lot of their prior studies, their prior research, shared it on our website, and broadly, and now it’s about taking this distinguished body of researchers and putting them or pulling them towards a more practice-driven or policymaker-driven research agenda. Because that’s not oftentimes the orientation that comes naturally.

     Alexander Morse 14:13

    Okay, so then what are some of the projects that you’re working on to help provide this information to policymakers and the public?

    Joseph Popcun 14:54

    Sure, actually, the CDC released data on January 30. We were the first research institution in the country to quickly download, compile, and perform analysis on it, and found very quickly that gun deaths had remained at near record high. 2017, they were above 39,700 and they remained that for 2018. The key findings right away that we saw were an increase in suicides, 2.4 percent, above 24,000, and a decrease in homicides, 4 percent, below 14,000 now.

    Nicholas Simons 15:29

    We had the help of Leigh Wedenoja, who’s part of the team here at the Rockefeller Institute, one of the resident data experts, she really broke down the big unruly data file and made it really easy to understand. All of this can be found at our Twitter page, which is @RockGunResearch. It’s a really effective avenue to get this out. Because we knew we were first in the nation, this is a central stuff and doing a deep dive on CDC data released the day of, people want to hear about it. We’ve actually been able to do some ten year analyses, which is nice. We found many different things over that time period. I’m happy to list a few for folks who are interested. But it was nice to just get a timely response out on some of this stuff.

    Joseph Popcun 16:09

    Absolutely, I think that that was one of the things where policymakers are trying to define the problem of gun violence in the country. We are the only advanced industrial country that has this epidemic of gun violence. It’s uniquely an American problem. We need to know when this national data source is released, which is the most comprehensive data source that is released on gun violence.

    Nicholas Simons 16:36

    And they need to know too, the policymakers need to know.

    Joseph Popcun 16:38

    Absolutely. When we started to think about what are the types of items from this mortality data set that they’d like to see, we quickly did some demographic analysis. The two things that stood out the most, at least from my perspective, were that the firearm involved homicides of black women increased 14 percent. And firearm involved suicides of Hispanic men also increased 14 percent.

    Alexander Morse 17:03

    Just over last year?

    Joseph Popcun 17:04

    Just year to year, from 2017 to 2018. As a policymaker, thinking about that, how do you start to craft interventions and policies that will better protect those communities from gun violence?

    Nicholas Simons 17:18

    What’s what’s nice too, is that you’re getting a population data file from the CDC. You’re not getting a randomized sample that might be representative of population or might not be. These are the actual numbers. This is everyone in the United States, unfortunately, that died from this terrible violence but it’s nice to be able to get accurate numbers and communicate them quickly and effectively.

    Alexander Morse 17:40

    I’ve seen some conflicting information about CDC funding, specifically gun violence and gun research funding. My general understanding is that they are not allowed to receive any money from the government to fund this epidemic. But a familiar talking point that I’ve seen from television and Twitter pundits is that that’s actually not true and they do receive funding. So can you help clear that up?

    Joseph Popcun 18:01

    Sure. In 1996, there was the Dickey Amendment, which removed from the CDC’s budget an amount of money, forgetting off top my head, I think it was $1.6 million or something like that. It was the amount of money that in the year prior had been allocated to study gun violence research. It became a de facto prohibition on gun violence research that’s supported by the federal government. That persisted until last year, when in a continuing resolution, Congress provided $25 million to study gun violence research. Nick, feel free to jump in with any other context.

    Nicholas Simons 18:39

    I think one thing that’s important to notice is prior to that, Joe has the statistic somewhere about how many billion dollars were expected funding for gun violence, but it was something like 1 percent?

    Joseph Popcun 18:53

    There was actually a study that looked at the leading causes of death, the exact same CDC mortality data that we were just talking about, it looked at the leading causes of death in America and the amount of money that went into studying each of those phenomenon. It found that gun violence had 1.6 percent of the funding that you would otherwise expect, given how many people die from gun violence. What does that mean? It means that they saw $22 million spent on gun violence research, but they would predict or expect $1.4 billion.

    Nicholas Simons 19:28

    Based on the number of people that died from gun violence, right?

    Joseph Popcun 19:31

    Precisely, based on the number of people who died from gun violence. While we’re talking about $25 million to support it, added in December of last year, we’re still far short of what you would expect to find for a public health crisis of this proportion.

    Alexander Morse 19:46

    Now, is that $25 million per annual?

    Joseph Popcun 19:50

    I don’t know at this point, I believe it was just in a continuing resolution. To my understanding, it’ll just be a one-off unless it’s added back in. I think that that’s an also segues as to why there was the need for the Consortium in some ways. Because of the fact that gun violence funding has been so low, it has not been a viable career trajectory for many researchers and academics. When you’re thinking about your career, you want to be as a young academic, you want to be competitive for grants. But if there’s no funding, then you don’t go for the grants. If you don’t get the grants and you can’t publish research in peer reviewed journals, and we actually found that while there’s a disparity between the amount of funding you’d predict, there’s also a huge disparity in the amount of publications you predict. Gun violence had 4.5 percent of the number of publications that you would expect to find based on it is a leading cause of death. We’re talking about a severely diminished research body and also the number of researchers who have made careers out of this, which is why the Research Consortium, bringing people together, setting the table, and allowing us to share research across and have a shared research agenda is so important.

    Nicholas Simons 21:01

    Some of the leading gun violence researchers nationwide are not gun violence researchers by trade. They’re public health researchers where gun violence is one of the core pieces of their research agenda. The reason being is that they couldn’t find funding in the gun violence area to propel their career solely on that. That’s also, like Joe was saying, one of the strength of the Consortium, we’re building up that research base, we’re empowering researchers here locally, but hopefully nationally as well, to say that this is a worthy cause. I’m not going to take credit and say that we got that $25 and the continuing…

    Joseph Popcun 21:40

    $25 million.

    Nicholas Simons 21:42

    A few more than $25. But it’s that type of message and the type of movement that we’ve seen in the past two years, I think has been translated to the federal level and could be a viable reason.

    Joseph Popcun 21:55

    To go back to answer the actual question you asked, which is why do people say there’s studies on this? Because yes, there are some studies on it. There are some researchers who are doing it. Obviously, we were able to pull together the Consortium, but not enough, not at the proportions you would expect, given the number of people who die from firearms. I mean, quite frankly, we’re talking about more people die from firearms than they do in motor vehicle accidents. Look at how we’ve treated motor vehicle accidents. We have seatbelts. We have crafted public policies and preventative measures to make sure that fewer and fewer people die each year. That’s also when we look at who’s doing that type of research on gun violence, it’s predominantly public health and it’s predominantly criminologists, criminal justice. It’s not studied or appreciated as a public policy issue.

    Joseph Popcun 21:55

    And so what we’re trying to do here is reframe the discussion as a health crisis instead of maybe a gun crisis.

    Joseph Popcun 22:49

    Yes. You’re absolutely right. I think the main takeaway is that we are now as a consortium, we have critical momentum of researchers, of research, and now we’re working with legislators, policymakers, and others on what are the next stages of interventions and policies to reduce firearm involved homicide, suicides, injuries, accidents. Disproportionately, we’ve seen in the studies that there is a focus on gun violence as a public health crisis, as a criminal justice issue. But it’s not just health and safety, it’s also a public policy issue. Between public health, criminal justice, and economics that comprises roughly 80 percent of the studies of gun violence that have been shared and disseminated. The remainder is a mix of psychology, political science, public policy, but I would posit that gun violence is a public policy problem, because it is uniquely American. It’s uniquely American, because of the fact that we have a constitutional Second Amendment, which protects and provides for the right of gun ownership for Americans in this country. We’re thinking about gun violence as a public policy problem because we know that the way to address it is through government intervention, funding support laws, policies, regulations, and administrative action to reduce the likelihood that people will die of firearms, whether it’s intentional in the case of homicides, or unintentional, accidents, and others. How do you do that? How do you start to reframe an issue from one department or one perspective toward another? We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months talking to policymakers, talking to researchers, and academics. We’re now starting to pursue a line of analysis and research products that will help us better characterize and study the policymaking/lawmaking process to ensure that it is oriented toward what we know works to reduce gun violence. Nick and I over the past few weeks have worked on a legislative analysis, looking back over the last two years in New York State about the types of legislation that were introduced that related to firearms. We ended up identifying, I think, more bills than at least I expected. It was over 150, between 2018 and 2019. We went through them. I’ll let Nick talk a little bit more about how we approached it and what we found.

    Nicholas Simons 25:28

    The whole point of the exercise here, at least, as Joe intimated to me when we were first talking about it, was that looking at legislation, it’s sometimes hard to see which bucket or which topic area a certain piece of legislation falls into. What would be interesting is for the public to be able to digest what types of bills in the gun violence space, at least, are focused on hardware of the gun, attachments to the gun versus who can own a gun. There’s a bunch of different topics that legislators can put their finger on and say either, “this is a problem in my district” or “we’ve seen this as an issue across the country” and can take action on it that way. What our purpose was here is to make it a little bit more digestible to see where they’re taking action, what they’re taking action on, what they’re not taking action on, and what could be next essentially? If there’s bills that haven’t been signed in the past two sessions about a specific topic, what can we expect moving forward? What we did was we used the legislative retrieval system here in New York, which is a an online tool that has the functionality to pull up bills based on keyword searches. We did that over the past two sessions for specific gun violence bills here in the State of New York, both in the Senate and the Assembly. As Joe was saying, over 150, 161 total bills were introduced in the past two legislative sessions that fit our…

    Joseph Popcun 26:55

    I would just interrupt to say, for folks who aren’t familiar with the New York system, the legislative session here in New York goes from January to June of each year. Interestingly enough, within the window of this analysis, we had a big shift in political party control of the upper chamber, the Senate. We looked at 2018, which had one kind of composition, and then we looked at 2019, which had this new legislature. We looked at the two bills they introduced over those six month respective periods.

    Nicholas Simons 27:23

    Right, exactly. So. This first point is really important when considering that context. Legislators introduced three times as many gun violence bills into the 2019 session than they did in the 2018 session; 124 bills in 2019 versus only 37 in 2018. In both sessions, the most popular topic of bill introduced was what we called person specific firearm prohibitors. That is more broadly, who can own a gun. Bills that talk about issues like extreme risk protection orders, or possession of firearms by domestic violence offenders, or minimum age of a firearm purchase requirements, and generally other disqualifiers fall into this category. In 2019, that was 20 percent of bills. In 2018, that was 30 percent of bills. Over those two legislative sessions, we saw 11 bills signed into law by the governor and 10 of them were in the latest session in 2019. They addressed eight of the 10 categories that we coded. There are resources on our website that you can check out that go into more depth about what our categories are. But the only two topics that were not addressed by the legislators in the past two sessions were addressed by the governor in his State of the State address in January. The two that didn’t see any action in the past two sessions were firearm research and reporting and illegal firearm-use trafficking and tracing. You can clearly see that even if there are areas that the legislature is not addressing, it kind of was proof of concept for our whole exercise here, which is, if you don’t act on a certain topic area over a specific period of time, whether it is that people notice or that you yourself are conscious of it as a policymaker, it will come to fruition in some way, whether it’s an executive priority or a legislative priority. In the governor’s State of the State address, for example, he introduced a proposal to have all ghost guns go through the serialization process, a serial number put on them. A ghost gun, which is, I’m guessing is what you’re going to ask, a ghost gun is either an undetectable firearm made by a 3D printer. But that term can also extend to what are called 80 percent lower receivers, which is you can buy a piece of a gun or 80 percent of a gun and build the last 20 percent of it in your home, in your garage, and it doesn’t need a serial number because the pieces that you’re buying independent of one another are not considered a firearm. So the serialization process doesn’t have to occur.

    Alexander Morse 29:54

    There is or there is no legislation on the books for this?

    Joseph Popcun 29:57

    Last year, the governor signed into law a ghost gun ban, but it essentially banned a gun from being made with only plastic components. There required there to be a metallic components as a part of it, so that it couldn’t be…

    Nicholas Simons 30:13

    You couldn’t go through a metal.

    Joseph Popcun 30:16

    Precisely. But this year, there’s a new proposal, it would require somebody who’s making a ghost gun to have a serial number affixed to it so that it can be tracked.

    Nicholas Simons 30:28

    Right, exactly. What I was getting to is that that’s one of the proposals in the State of the State that fell into an unaddressed area that falls nicely into the category of illegal firearm use, trafficking, and tracing because, as Joe said, you can now trace these guns if they’re used in crimes because they have serial numbers where they would not have if this proposal was not in effect. One of the other pieces that was was put in the State of the State proposal was a data sharing agreement between the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium states, the seven states that we identified at the top of the podcast and Pennsylvania to share some of the crime gun data, the tracing data that we’re talking about that would now be able to extend to ghost guns. That falls into the firearm research and reporting topic, as well as the the tracing topic that I was talking about. Like I said, it’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy, because we were able to see what had not been acted on in the in the legislative sessions that was quickly acted on by an executive.

    Joseph Popcun 31:27

    I think that this is really interesting and you can replicate this analysis for any jurisdiction. I think one of the things we’ve thought about is how to do it for other Consortium states because of the fact that you’re looking at public information, you’re looking at legislative activity, and you’re also able to then take the categories and codes that we’ve come up with, and also say, “Okay, well, what’s the evidence base behind that?” If persons-specific firearm disqualifiers are the thing that the legislature is spending the majority of their time on now over two years and potentially this year, what do we know about the quality of the data behind person-specific firearm disqualifiers?

    Nicholas Simons 32:08

    Is there a research base for that area?

    Joseph Popcun 32:10

    What does that research base look like? How do we get that information into the hands of policymakers? Because it’s not enough just to have research for its own sake to say, “hey, we looked at this, and we said, okay, yes, these are the three types of people who shouldn’t have firearms.” We need to make sure that that’s translated and provided to policymakers so that they can consider it as they’re crafting these bills, not after the fact. So, Nick did a great job of summarizing the legislative activity on this. Looking at the governor’s agenda for this year, we also saw firearm bills on domestic violence, allowing law enforcement war tools to remove firearms from people who have committed or alleged to have committed domestic violence crime. It’s established a domestic violence misdemeanor. The current law in the state said that if you had a misdemeanor against a family member, then you had to go through the separate process rather to prohibit them from owning or possessing a firearm. But this would streamline that process so that you didn’t have to go through another court procedure. All that is to say, I think we envision using this tool going forward to not only capture the baseline of legislative activity and executive activity, but also be able to look at areas where there could potentially be new action, to Nick’s point, or where there’s areas where we need to focus more efforts, ghost guns being a prime example. Last year there was some movement on it, like we talked about this year, it’s part of the governor’s State of the State. But one of the things that we saw at the recent budget hearing, which we attended, was a lot of legislative interest. You had the…

    Nicholas Simons 33:50

    On ghost guns particularly.

    Joseph Popcun 33:52

    Absolutely. You had the Division of Criminal Justice Services Executive Deputy Commissioner Mike Green, and the State Police Superintendent Keith Corlett, both received questions on ghost guns and how best to address them in a day and age when anybody can buy a 3D printer off the internet and print these at home. How do you start to combat those issues? It seems to be something that is on the policymaking agenda, so to speak. But there’s also an interesting kind of concept about promoting voluntary temporary storage of firearms outside of the home. What does that mean? Colorado and New Jersey and a few other states have dedicated efforts to find law enforcement agencies at the local level or businesses, FFLs, businesses that sell firearms or gun ranges, who provide voluntary storage. In a lot of instances called these places and said, “Are you interested in having that be publicly known that you store firearms.” Then if the business or if the police agency is willing to, then they put it on to a centralized listing and a map so that people who want to store a firearm temporarily can do so. This year, the governor in the State of the State proposed a similar strategy. I think the difference here is that here at the Rockefeller Institute, we’ll be working with the State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice Services to identify the businesses and identify the law enforcement agencies, and be able to pull together a map that we hope is comprehensive for people who want to store their firearms temporarily. Why would you want to do that as a gun owner? You would want to do that because you might be selling your house and you don’t want people who are walking through your house during an open house to stumble in your closet and find a firearm. You might have kids visiting for the holidays. You might have somebody who is at home with you who has a mental illness, who might present a danger to themselves or others and you just don’t want that there.

    Nicholas Simons 35:52

    You might be going on family vacation out of the state and want your firearms out of the house.

    Joseph Popcun 35:55

    There’s a whole host of reasons about why you might want to provide storage for your firearms outside the home. To date, there isn’t really a central repository for that information. As a gun owner, we’re trying to provide information to you so that you can make the best decision for you on where your firearm should be stored. To come full circle, I think there’s three ways that I’m looking at the issue of gun violence and also the future of the Consortium. One is that we have to have a better idea of what the problem is. A lot of that comes from the data we have access to. We’re looking in the next year, not only to further explore the CDC data but also look at state and local data. We’d like to create some county profiles about gun violence at a smaller geography so that local officials can also make informed decisions about gun violence in their community and tailor appropriate strategies to address it. It’s not just a year-to-year increase, it’s thinking holistically about what are the trends that you see in your community. I mean, for instance, for the nation as a whole, we’ve seen total gun deaths go up 27 percent over the past 10 years, homicides up 21 percent, suicides up 30 percent. But it’s not just enough to say those are the key trends. You have to go towards specific populations. You have to look at Black homicides are up 30 percent, Hispanic homicides are up 4 percent, White homicides are up 10 percent. You need to know that information for your own backyard, for your neighbors, for the people who are living beside you so that you can make the best decisions as a government official. That’s the kind of problem thing. The solution, how we are proposing to solve it is to think about gun violence as a multifaceted problem. It’s not just a public health problem or a public safety problem. It’s a public policy problem. We know that state and local governments are the key in this fight to reduce firearm involved deaths and injuries. But we need to better understand the policymaking, lawmaking, legislating that goes behind that, so that we can effectively combat gun violence and prevent these tragedies. There’s not going to be a silver bullet that we’re going to find. But we hope to be able to study this problem through a new angle and bring more research to the fore.

    Nicholas Simons 38:16

    Just to wrap what Joe’s saying really rings true for me, because a lot of the studies and the exercises that we’re going through here at the Rockefeller Institute are easily replicable in different jurisdictions. We talked about that a little bit earlier. But just to say that this baseline legislative tracking that we’re doing is something that anyone can do in any state in any topic area for that as well. It doesn’t have to be gun violence, but just so that, across the nation, people are becoming more informed whether it’s the public at-large or the policymakers making laws in this area. Really connecting those two groups is what we’re trying to do here at the Consortium, but also at the Rockefeller Institute. So it falls nicely into our purview.

    Joseph Popcun 38:56

    I think in addition to crunching the numbers at the federal, state, and local level, and also working with researchers who are developing the solutions for today and tomorrow’s crises, it is paramount to get them in the same room and start those conversations. We’re looking to convene meetings and conferences to continue that dialogue. I think that’s going to be an important part of building relationships that are responsive to the needs of policymakers who are representing the communities where gun violence has its greatest impact.

    Alexander Morse 39:32

    Joe, Nick, thanks again for coming on the show today. This is important work, you’re addressing the gaps that some policymakers might be missing. You’re identifying the blind spots and trying to help educate the public policymakers, and even just build a network for us to understand how to address the issue of gun violence and gun homicides.

    Joseph Popcun 39:51

    Thank you very much for having us. Can’t wait to be back on.

    Nicholas Simons 39:54

    Yes, thanks, Alex. We really enjoyed this time and hopefully it’s helpful for others as well.

    Joseph Popcun 39:59

    Nick, do can you restate real quick, since since Nick is a little younger than me, the social media tags and website information?

    Nicholas Simons 40:07

    Sure. If you want to follow the Rockefeller Institute work, it’s rockinst.org. If you want to follow our Twitter handle for the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium it is @RockGunResearch.

    Alexander Morse 40:26

    Thanks for spelling that all up for us. I do want to make one comment. Joe, I didn’t say this at the top of the podcast. But congrats to being a new dad. He has one son and then all of a sudden thinks you can’t handle the internet.

    Joseph Popcun 40:39

    You know, I think it’s more of a commentary on my sleep deprivation than anything else. But no, Walter is at home. He is growing faster than I expected. But we’re doing well. Thanks very much.

    Alexander Morse 40:52

    That’s wonderful. Thanks again everyone.

    Alexander Morse 41:02

    Really grateful we got to have Joe and Nick on for this episode. The work here at the Rockefeller Institute is groundbreaking. Our team is committed to finding and providing the best resources available to help address the gun violence epidemic. Whether you pronounce it consortee-um or consorsh-um, I highly recommend you check out our webpage dedicated to gun violence research by visiting www.rockinst.org/gun-violence. Another special thanks to our senior policy analyst at the institute, Leigh Wedenoja, who helped Joe and Nick crunch that CDC mortality data. Thanks to our producers Joel Tirado and Trevor Craft of the Rockefeller Institute for putting together this great episode and working hard to deliver the latest in public policy research. I’m Alex Morse. Until next time.

    Joseph Popcun 42:06

    [Sound of soda can opening] That’s what I wanted.

    Nicholas Simons 42:07

    So what people don’t know is you used to do that in meetings to get people’s attention. Is that correct?

    Joseph Popcun 42:12

    Yes, I used to bring a seltzer with me to every meeting, particularly during like budget, and we’d all be around and it would be 2 in the morning, 3 in the morning…

    Nicholas Simons 42:23

    Stressful time.

    Joseph Popcun 42:23

    Stressful time. People are going back and forth heated. I would wait until things got to a fever pitch and then I would crack it open. Without fail there was like a Pavlovian experience to it so that people then realize, okay, things have gotten too heated, we should bring it back down.

    Nicholas Simons 42:39

    I love that.

    Alexander Morse 42:41

    Policy Outsider is presented by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts cutting edge nonpartisan public policy research and analysis to inform lasting solutions to the challenges facing New York State and the nation. Learn more at rockinst.org or by following RockefellerInst on social media. Have a question, comment, or idea? Email us at [email protected].

Policy Outsider

Policy Outsider” from the Rockefeller Institute of Government takes you outside the halls of power to understand how decisions of law and policy shape our everyday lives.

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