With this essay, Jonathan Metzl opens a new Items series exploring social science research pathways into understanding American gun violence, gun culture, and its discontents. The series provides a sampling of innovative approaches to the study of gun-related issues in the United States. Here Metzl provides background on the history and limits of public health research approaches to gun violence, and highlights how social science research can and has started asking new questions about guns in the United States.
Research into firearms has been mired in polarizing politics for much of the past three decades. Over this time period, public health emerged as the primary framework that tracked information about the effects of guns on people’s lives. Public health researchers uncovered consequences of particular gun-related policies, often against headwinds of political resistance and wavering funding support. These findings lay the foundation for better understanding the armed petri dish that is the United States—a country that boasts less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but over 40 percent of its civilian-owned firearms.
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