By Colleen Miracle
The University of Colorado School of Medicine has launched the Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative, bringing experts on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus together to serve as a trusted community and national resource for firearms-related research and solutions.
Led by Emmy Betz, MD, MPH, the Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative will conduct and disseminate research on effective approaches to reduce injury and death, design resources and tools for practice, mentor future firearm injury prevention professionals, and work alongside local communities to develop effective and relevant solutions.
Firearms are a growing cause of death in the United States, and the CU School of Medicine is positioned to be a leading voice on this public health crisis. The $4.5 million initiative is led by the Department of Emergency Medicine with support from the CU School of Medicine Dean’s Office and the departments of medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery.
The initiative looks for ways to prevent firearm harm of all types, including suicide, domestic violence, unintentional shootings, community violence, school violence, mass shootings, and police involved shootings.
Emmy Betz, MD, MPH
In 2020, Colorado had the 22nd-highest firearm death rate in the country and the seventh-highest suicide death rate. Between 2016 and 2020, there were 4,248 firearm deaths in Colorado. Seventy-five percent of those deaths were by suicide, and twenty-one percent were by homicide.
“We feel the impact as clinicians and community members, from mass shootings but also from the daily toll of firearm deaths from suicide and community violence” says Betz, director of the initiative and professor of emergency medicine. “I am grateful to the School of Medicine and campus leaders for supporting us in addressing the public health crisis of firearm injury.”
CU faculty, researchers, and initiative staff collaborate with public health professionals, clinicians, policymakers, and local communities. With Colorado’s strong culture of hunting, ranching, sport shooting, and firearm ownership, there are many opportunities for outreach and partnership with firearm-owning communities and to learn from them.
Attending gun shows to distribute locking devices is one of several educational areas for the initiative. Betz co-founded and co-leads the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition, a collaborative effort between public health and medical professionals and firearm retailers to reduce firearm suicides. Joe Simonetti, MD, MPH, director of mentorship and education for the initiative, leads panel discussions locally and nationally and meets with school district leaders to support school safety considerations.
The School of Medicine’s investment in the initiative means a tremendous amount for the future of firearm injury prevention,” says Simonetti, who is an assistant professor of medicine. “This gives us the opportunity to build infrastructure and support faculty to ensure we’re able to provide outstanding mentorship and training for the next generation of researchers and public health practitioners.”
Working with Colorado’s military community, which includes seven military bases, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the CU Center for Combat Medicine and Battlefield Research, the initiative seeks to serve as a primary local resource for research and education on suicide prevention, mental health support, and military community engagement on injury prevention.
The initiative works with Buckley Space Force Base leadership on tactics to prevent firearm-related injuries in military settings. The initiative reaches beyond Colorado through webinars, where it hosts discussions on issues including firearm storage and rural community violence intervention.
Faculty research covers firearm injury, health care provider counseling, and community-based programming.
Betz and Erin Kelly, DrPH, MA, director of research and evaluation for the initiative, are collaborating with the Colorado Office of Gun Violence Prevention on developing and maintaining a state resource bank for data, research, and statistical information regarding firearm injuries and deaths, and their prevention.
Another project, led by Betz and Chris Knoepke, PhD, MSW, LCSW, law enforcement lead for the initiative and instructor of medicine, is examining training for Extreme Risk Protection Orders. With funding from the Fund for a Safer Future, the study team is partnering with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to identify and address law enforcement training needs for these orders.
“We want our collaborators to know that we have a common goal of health and security, respect for diversity, and consideration of a range of views. We must engage with impacted communities and those with lived experiences to be a well-rounded initiative,” says Betz. “We must address this public health crisis with research, education, and collaboration.”