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Addressing Gun Violence in Missouri with Research-Driven Solutions

Q&A with Missouri Foundation for Health’s Jessi LaRose, Senior Strategist - Initiatives

The National Collaborative is partnering with Missouri Foundation for Health to fund research aimed at providing evidence-based solutions to prevent gun violence in Missouri. With the Foundation’s support, the collaborative will set aside $1.5 million in the 2020 request for proposals to support work specific to Missouri.

In this Q&A, Jessi LaRose, Senior Strategist – Initiatives at Missouri Foundation for Health, explains why the Foundation is supporting a data-driven approach to tackling gun violence.

Why is gun violence a key issue for Missouri and Missouri Foundation for Health?

Missouri has a gun violence problem. Now widely recognized as a public health issue, it impacts people of all ages and backgrounds in all communities across our state. It is one of the leading causes of death in both the U.S. and Missouri, yet we know far less about prevention for this issue than any of the other leading causes.

We saw an opportunity to be able to make impact and drive change by contributing to the field’s understanding of potential solutions to gun violence. The Foundation’s prevention strategy is to build a strong base of information and networks that enable those in our state to effectively respond when opportunities emerge to influence the systems and structures that underly gun violence.

How is gun violence affecting Missourians?

Gun violence includes homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings resulting in injuries and death. In 2017, Missouri had the fifth-highest firearm death rate in the nation (per capita). The homicide rate in St. Louis continues to be far higher than the national average and roughly double the rate of cities of comparable size and geography. In addition, suicides have increased 36% from 1999 to 2018 in the state (the 19th highest rate in the nation). Firearms account for 61% of suicide deaths in Missouri, making it the leading means of suicide by a wide margin.

Gun violence in all its forms leaves lasting scars on communities, affecting overall health and well-being.

What motivated your decision to partner with the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research to fund Missouri-relevant gun policy research?

Gun violence prevention research is very limited in Missouri, which has led to significant gaps in knowledge around perceptions of gun violence and the impact of promising practices and policies. This work will strengthen Missouri’s gun violence prevention field and make the state a focal point for high-quality, evidence-based, non-partisan research. Not only will this work enable the Foundation’s future efforts to be more effective, it will also serve as a resource to other organizations in Missouri and nationwide as they strive for greater impact against this epidemic.

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Through this partnership we will be able to potentially reach and engage a more diverse pool of researchers to undertake additional Missouri-specific work. In addition, this opportunity can help contribute to diversifying the researchers working in the gun violence field through dissertation projects and fellowship support.

What impact do you hope the research that comes from this partnership will have on Missouri and Missourians?

We believe that making investments to build a strong base of information will help us advance a more nuanced and shared understanding of the impact of gun violence on Missouri communities. It will also enable us and likeminded organizations to better promote data-driven solutions to reduce gun-related deaths and injuries.

How else is Missouri Foundation for Health working to reduce gun violence?

This is just one piece of a larger gun violence prevention research agenda at the Foundation. Additional research will also be conducted regarding behaviors, attitudes, and knowledge relating to gun violence, along with effective communications strategies to facilitate change.

MFH is also currently supporting various gun-violence related work in select areas of the state. This includes the hospital-based violence intervention program Life Outside of Violence, Better Family Life’s De-escalation Centers, The Saint Louis Story Stitchers Artist Collective, and the suicide prevention program Safer Homes Collaborative. Over the next several years, the Foundation also plans to support opportunities to strengthen Missouri networks to address gun violence.