OHSU researchers studying gun violence as a public health crisis

There are people who have dedicated themselves to understanding the problem in order to find solutions.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The gun violence in Oregon and across the country is back in the spotlight after a series of recent mass shootings. But there are people who have dedicated themselves to understanding the problem in order to find solutions.

At Oregon University of Health and Science (OHSU) and Portland Medical Center in Virginia, researchers are studying gun violence through the prism of public health. With the data they collect, Dr. Kathleen Carlson and her team hope to reduce the incidence of gun violence in Oregon.

“We look at all gunshot wounds treated in emergency departments and emergency centers across the state, and we also look at firearms-related deaths across the state and evaluate those for time models,” said Carlson, a professor of public health. health at OHSU and the Portland State University School of Public Health.

She and her team received funding to investigate gun violence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a few years ago after Congress embezzled $ 25 million.

“It was a new source of funding from the CDC that went to several states in the country, including ours,” Carlson said.

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Although she said some of the money is a drop in the bucket compared to funding for other research topics, it’s still a big deal, especially since funding for research into gun violence has been limited for many years.

“NRA [National Rifle Association] sees this as a way to publicly fund research that supports gun control, “Carlson said.

She said the NRA was working with Congress to change the CDC appropriation.

“If the funding goes to researching gun violence, then the CDC will lose its entire budget for injuries and violence prevention. So that completely stopped weapons research, “Carlson said.

But now she said things are starting to change as there is more funding for research. Carlson said she began investigating gun violence around 2015 after the Sandy Hook school shooting that killed 26 people. Twenty of the victims are children. Carlson, who was a parent at the time, had also lost a family member to a suicide with a firearm.

“I thought I had all the preparation for it. I have personal experience. “I have to use these fees to solve this problem,” she said.

Carlson said national injuries have displaced deaths from motor vehicle accidents. Oregon has an average of more than 500 gun deaths each year. About 80% of them are suicidal, and she said there were many unintentional injuries. According to Carlson, there are some remarkable findings in the VA data studied by her team.

“We have seen that any treatment for a gunshot wound that was not fatal is strongly linked to the subsequent death from a firearm, most often suicide,” Carlson said.

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She said her team is considering ways to intervene at the hospital level when people enter, but is also considering possible changes at the community level to reduce gun violence. One idea that is gaining momentum is the use of eco-design.

“At the national level, what we’ve seen is valued solidly is the use of landscaping initiatives, which is, you know, taking up vacant plots, landscaping these vacant lots, reducing urban disease or empty buildings,” Carlson said. .

She said the idea of ​​eco-design could be seen as beautifying neighborhoods or reinvesting in them after decades of sales, which she said affects levels of violence.

“But it also, very practically, reduces the areas where people can hide or conceal weapons.

After so much gun violence in our communities, Carlson said gun violence is not inevitable. We can do something about it, and it starts with understanding the problem.

“It is not hopeless. There are countless ways to evaluate this and deal with it, “she said.

Carlson likened it to advances in car and road safety over the years. The same can be true of guns and gun violence, balancing security and freedom.

“Gun injuries and gun violence are not inevitable. There are solutions, there are models we can evaluate, and that means there are solutions and ways to prevent them. ”

Carlson said we as a society need to get rid of the idea that the issue is binary, gun rights versus gun control. She said there is a lot of room in the middle for finding a viable solution.

While her work will not mean an immediate end to gun violence, she hopes the research she and her team are leading will help reduce gun violence in the future.

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