Seeking gun violence solutions outside world of criminal justice

Newark trauma surgeon Stephanie Bonne, who sees an average of 400 to 600 gunshot wound victims in her emergency department every year, was one of many experts at the Rutgers University Center on Gun Violence Research Thursday, making the case for bringing experts from various fields to find solutions.

“One of the things I hate the most is seeing the relief in someone’s face when you say this person is alive, but they’re going to be paralyzed,” said Bonne, professor of surgery at Rutgers Medical School.

“We try to go from research to practice to policy,” said Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean of Public Health Integration at Michigan State University.

“There’s a better way I like to think about it, I call it practice-based evidence. What if we were actually out talking to, working with and in partnership with the people who are already on the ground floor?”

The research is still in its infancy, with eight separate studies in the works, but ultimately, it aims to help leaders understand who becomes a victim of gun violence and why.

“And do statewide surveys to understand what the characteristics around gun behaviors are in the state,” said Bernadette Hohl, co-director of the Rutgers Center on Gun Violence Research.

“We know, for example, that over-policing communities has an opposite and unintended effect of reducing violence. You’ll get these immediate short-term reductions followed by spikes and then you lose community trust,” said Furr-Holden.

Researchers say New Jersey is doing a lot right when it comes to gun violence. With an average of 482 gun-related deaths per year, it has one of the lowest rates in the nation. That comes to about 5.4 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Still, the consequences for families and communities are staggering. For example, black youths are 10 times more likely to be killed with a gun than their white peers.

“People are getting illegal guns from Pennsylvania, from our neighboring states, so the guns are here and we’re trying to figure out ways to help the communities,” said Theresa Turner, state legislative lead of Moms Demand Action.

Experts at the symposium said that limitations on firearm injury research have affected their ability to understand the problem and in turn develop programs that work.