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Missouri Foundation For Health Commissions $1.5 Million In Studies On Gun Violence

Children Under Fire is a series examining how communities are affected when children are killed by gun violence.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
A Missouri nonprofit is comissioning state-specific research to help inform laws that could curb gun violence.

The Missouri Foundation for Health and a national think tank are commissioning $1.5 million in grants for researchers to study the causes and effects of Missouri’s gun violence epidemic.

Foundation representatives hope the research will better inform policymakers on the best ways to prevent people from dying, said Jessi LaRose, a senior strategist at the St. Louis-based nonprofit. 

The foundation aims to fund studies about urban gun violence, rural gun fatalities, accidental shooting deaths and suicides. It also seeks research on why so many black men are dying from gun violence and the effectiveness of programs aiming to curb gun deaths, such as St. Louis’ Cure Violence anti-homicide initiative,approved by the Board of Aldermen last year.

Missouri’s gun death rate — 21.3 per every 100,000 residents — is among the highest in the nation. More than 1,300 Missourians died in 2017 from gun-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Despite those numbers, there’s much less research on the causes and effects of gun violence than cancer or car accidents, LaRose said.

“Gun violence is a leading cause of death in both the U.S. and Missouri, yet we know far less about prevention of gun violence than many other areas and leading causes of death and injury,” she said.

The $1.5 million provided by the foundation for Missouri-specific research is part of $9.5 million in research grants offered by the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, a national nonprofit run by the RAND Corporation.

The two partners submitted a request for proposals earlier this month and expect to award research grants this spring.

While the research projects will likely take years to conduct, the Missouri Foundation for Health will monitor their progress to inform their own gun violence-prevention efforts, LaRose said.

LaRose said she wants to make sure the research goes beyond urban gun violence to focus on all types of firearm-related deaths statewide. 

“That could start to bridge that gap of how it works in urban and rural [areas],” she said, adding that two-thirds of all gun deaths statewide are self-inflicted.

The National Rifle Association has long opposed such research.

For decades, the federal Dickey Amendment put a virtual freeze on federal funding of research that could be used by advocates of gun control. Private organizations and nonprofits such as the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Researchhave stepped in to fund studies.

That’s starting to change: In 2019, Congress for the first timeapproved $25 million in government funding for firearms research.

LaRose thinks the Missouri-specific research could be of interest to people in Missouri and nationally who want to study the effects of less-stringent gun laws such as Missouri’s on death rates, LaRose said.

“We really are hoping this work will strengthen Missouri’s gun-violence-prevention fields and make the state a focal point for high-quality, rigorous, nonpartisan research,” LaRose said.

Follow Sarah on Twitter @petit_smudge

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Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.