The overall public health of a community appears to correspond with the likelihood of mass shooting events, while many gun control laws do not, according to preliminary research out of The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences.
Dr. Stephen Markowiak, a general surgery research fellow at UT, found mass shootings tend to happen more in communities that have issues with overcrowding, higher rates of income inequality, lower rates of socialization, and a disconnect between mental health needs and mental health providers.“The communities that have suffered through mass shootings tend to be much less healthy than the national average, both from a standpoint of physical health and mental health,” Markowiak said. “We need to think about this problem through the lens of public health and encourage more objective research.”
He presented his research findings Oct. 23 at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2018.
Markowiak used data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, U.S. Census, Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and Giffords Law Center for Gun Violence to develop a slate of common characteristics of communities where 186 mass shootings have occurred.
For the purpose of the study, a mass shooting was defined as a single incident in which four or more people are killed, not including the gunman. Researchers excluded shootings that had a clear motive.
One of the intriguing findings of the research is that six of the 11 common state gun control measures Markowiak examined did not correspond with a lowered occurrence of mass shooting events. In fact, some pointed to a higher incidence.
“While the data show stricter gun control laws are associated with lower levels of overall violent crime, mass shootings appear to be the exception to the rule,” Markowiak said. “That sort of supports our notion that these are a different phenomenon than your average everyday crime.”
Five gun control measures, however, did correlate with a lower incidence of mass shootings — mandatory reporting of mental health records to the National Incident Criminal Background Check System, bans on open carrying of firearms, laws preventing child access, laws disarming dangerous persons, and mandatory waiting periods.
Markowiak and research collaborators did not seek to promote any political position on gun violence, but rather show it is possible to study mass shootings in a way that’s objective and apolitical.
The researchers did, however, say they believe Congress needs to take more action to ensure there is solid data available to researchers looking at the issue and to clarify that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can investigate gun violence as a public health issue.
Although the last congressional spending bill specified the 1996 Dickey Amendment was not an outright ban on the CDC researching gun violence as it had widely been understood, the amendment remains on the books. There’s also the so-called Tiahrt Amendment that restricts the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from releasing much of its data to researchers.
“From a public health study standpoint, those amendments need to be revised if we’re going to ever address this issue in a more comprehensive way than we’ve done,” Markowiak said.
Co-authors include Dr. Philip Welch, assistant professor in Bowling Green State University’s Department of Public and Allied Health, and Dr. David Heidt, a trauma surgeon formerly of The University of Toledo Medical Center who now works at St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor, Mich.