Last month, the Tufts University School of Medicine released a gun safety study in partnership with 97Percent, a bipartisan gun safety organization. The study was led by Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of public health and community medicine at TUSM. Dr. Siegel was assisted by student researchers Kathleen Grene, an MD and MPH student at TUSM, and Amani Dharani (AG’22).
The study set out to find a common ground between gun owners and non-gun owners through in-depth surveys and interviews regarding the specific provisions within gun laws. 97Percent and the TUSM research team decided to partner in this study because of their shared objective to reduce gun deaths in America.
“The purpose of this study was really to find out well … is there a common ground and if so, what is the common ground upon which we could potentially build a set of policies that would be effective, but also would be supported by both sides,” Siegel said in an interview with the Daily.
The study was conducted in three parts: a national survey, focus groups and finally a review of the evidence that was compiled into the study that was published by 97Percent. From the surveys, the researchers found important common ground.
“There’s very clearly common ground between gun owners and non-gun owners. And specifically, we found that that common ground is that there’s a uniform belief that people who are at high risk for violence should not have access to guns,” Siegel said.
There was a tremendous effort to ensure that the surveys were worded in a way that was unbiased and set the respondents up to respond in the most accurate way possible.
“We really had to think about how we were wording these questions to test these principles. … We didn’t want the wording to come off in a way that the gun owner or the respondent would be inclined to not agree. … It really took a lot of time to fine-tune how the questions were asked,” Dharani said.
The surveys were released to approximately 1,000 gun owners online and helped to inform the next component of the study, the focus groups.
“We conducted just under 100 focus groups/interviews with gun owners [and non-gun owners]. And that was the qualitative aspect of our data collection,” Dharani said.
There were a number of important conclusions that the researchers drew from the focus groups, which was the more qualitative aspect of the research.
“There were things that gun owners are very concerned about: the level of violence that we’re seeing in the country that’s as a result of guns, mass shootings and then everyday violence, and they want to do something about it,” Grene said.
From both the surveys and the focus groups, the research team found that many of the respondents were concerned with the more specific provisions in gun laws.
“We tried to find out what were the principles underlying their support or opposition to these policies. And then secondly, we assessed their opinions about the … specific provisions of each law,” Siegel said.
The study was one of the first in its field to delve into the specifics of gun laws with gun owners.
“We’re really getting into the nitty-gritty details about provisions and the specifics. And that hasn’t been done before. So this is unique in that sense,” Dharani said.
The emphasis on specific provisions had an incredible impact on the responses the researchers received.
“If you look at each provision, and you include provisions like a fine for someone who’s using [guns] vindictively and guarantee of expeditious return of firearms … [its support] shoots way up into I believe over 75% support, and so that is huge,” Grene said.
The next step of the study is the creation of a policy platform in partnership with 97Percent.
“This next phase of the research that we’ll be releasing will be Dr. Siegel’s take on the very specific policy implications of what our research told us … and then we as an organization will be using that research to develop … a roadmap,” Stephanie Cunnane, head of communications for 97Percent, said.
“Once we have that platform, that’s something that can be shared with policymakers and hopefully help them to understand what the priorities are, and very easy ways that they can really reduce gun violence in their states without having to get into policies that are going to cause gun owners to oppose them in large numbers,” Siegel said.
The next phase of research, sponsored by 97Percent, will be released in November and will aim to illustrate the common ground that Siegel’s research found.