Firearm policy is one of the most contentious political issues in the United States. With about 121 firearms in circulation for every 100 persons in America, the US faces a challenge in simultaneously protecting the Constitutional right to firearm ownership while promoting gun safety for gun owners and non-owner alike.
A group of UConn researchers are collaborating with Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Research to conduct a comprehensive survey on the harms and benefits of firearm polices for gun owners. They argue that understanding these harms and benefits is a critical step in protecting rights and promoting safety.
Mitchell Doucette, an assistant scientist at Johns Hopkins University, is the principal investigator. The UConn team includes associate professor Kerri Raissian and associate professor-in-residence Jennifer Necci Dineen in the Department of Public Policy, and Damion Grasso, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics in the UConn School of Medicine.
This research is funded by a $228,000 grant from the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research (NCGVR). This is one of nine projects, totaling $1 million, recently funded by the NCGVR.
The team will conduct a study to develop and validate a self-report instrument to assess gun owners’ perceived harms and benefits of specific gun policies and practices.
Doucette will provide the team with his in-depth background in gun violence prevention research. Necci Dineen will be the group’s survey methodologist. Grasso will focus on methodology for tool validation. Raissian will serve as the expert on how to communicate about policy and the harms and benefits of policies in different environments.
It’s really important that policy be shaped by the voices of people the policy affects. — Kerri Raissian
The researchers will actively engage gun owners in each part of the study. The group will begin by engaging groups of gun owners, such as shooting clubs, to obtain critical information for developing initial items for assessing owners’ perceived harms and benefits.
“I think, in general, it’s really important that policy be shaped by the voices of people the policy affects,” Raissian says.
This study will produce a deeper understanding of gun owners’ decision-making processes. The survey will ask participants from around the country about how and if a specific firearm policy, such as universal background checks or laws that allow carrying weapons without permits, might influence their behavior.
Every policy or intervention related to firearms, whether restrictive or permissive, has its own set of harms and benefits. For example, a gun user may see a safe storage law as beneficial if they have children in their home and understand the risks of having firearms accessible to children. Others may see the same law as an unnecessary impediment to accessing their firearm easily when they need it.
The researchers will also be looking at quantitative measures such as the incidence of injury, likelihood of theft, and victimization rates.
Data often does not tell the whole story about how gun owners feel about policies, which is an important determinant of compliance and success of a policy’s goals. Combining quantitative and qualitative measures will provide a fuller picture of how policies impact and influence gun owners.
“Understanding that kind of decision calculation for gun owners can help us think through policies or how we can communicate with stakeholders more effectively,” Raissian says.
The researchers intend for this tool to be broadly applicable. While they will select and study two specific policies, the Harms and Benefits Inventory will be applicable for assessing perceptions about other firearm policies and interventions.
By better understanding gun owners’ perceptions of harms and benefits of firearm policies, the research team hopes this study can help promote greater gun safety in ways that take all stakeholders’ concerns into account.
“Guns are a part of American life – indeed there are more guns than people in America,” Raissian says. “If policy is to achieve its aim of increasing gun safety, it is critical that we have tools that inform us about gun owners and their perceptions of policy.”