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Missouri gets spotlight in nationwide effort to study gun violence prevention

Missouri gets spotlight in nationwide effort to study gun violence prevention

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ST. LOUIS — Missouri has one of the highest rates of people dying by firearms, and a major statewide funding foundation has partnered with a national research effort to find out why.

The Missouri Foundation for Health has given $1.5 million to the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research to commission work specific to Missouri.

The national collaborative — launched two years ago through donations — is awarding up to $9.5 million this year for research on gun violence prevention. The Missouri Foundation for Health’s $1.5 donation to the effort comes with the stipulation that it only be used to study policies in Missouri.

Missouri Foundation for Health recognizes the need for solid, reliable evidence on what works and what doesn’t to reduce gun violence,” said collaborative director Andrew Morral. “By investing in gun research, the foundation is investing in finding solutions that save lives while protecting the rights of gun owners.”

The set-aside for Missouri will fund research that will investigate state programs or policies and produce findings to inform decision-makers in Missouri, Morral explained.

Missouri ties with Mississippi for fifth-highest rate of firearm deaths per capita in the country, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. First is Alaska, then Alabama, Montana and Louisiana.

Firearm-related deaths in Missouri increased by 56.4% over the past decade, according to a state report released last fall.

In 2018, the report showed 726 suicides and 557 homicides involved firearms — making up 68% of all suicide and homicide deaths, up from 61% in 2008.

“The effect of gun violence on our region’s overall health and well-being has been truly devastating,” Missouri Foundation for Health president Robert Hughes said in a statement. “Not only will this work enable the Foundation’s future efforts to be more effective, it will also serve as a resource to other organizations in Missouri and nationwide as they strive for greater impact against this epidemic.”

Gun violence research has been chronically underfunded since passage of the 1996 Dickey Amendment, which barred using federal money for research that may be used to advocate for gun control. That year, Congress also cut $2.6 million from the CDC’s research budget — the exact amount that had been allocated for firearm research — which federal agencies took as a chilling message.

Congress in December approved a federal budget that for the first time in more than two decades included $25 million for gun safety research to be divided between the CDC and National Institutes of Health.

Over the next three years, the Missouri Foundation for Health has committed to putting $7 million toward gun violence prevention work across the state, said foundation senior strategist Jessi LaRose. The hope is for a data-driven approach.

The foundation was created in 2000 when Blue Cross Blue Shield converted from nonprofit to for-profit status and was required to establish independent philanthropic foundations with the value of its assets. It is among the largest of its kind in the country, awarding about $45 million each year to nonprofit efforts to improve health across Missouri.

By partnering with the national collaborative, the foundation wants to draw on a larger pool of researchers who may be interested in studying Missouri and end up with the strongest proposals, LaRose said. “We can rely on their expertise and experience to make sure we are getting the highest-quality research proposals submitted and rewarded.”

The national collaborative was established in 2018 with a $20 million gift by the Arnold Ventures philanthropy and is administered by the nonprofit RAND Corp.

In 2019, the collaborative awarded nearly $10 million in its first round of grants, which included projects addressing suicide, school violence, officer-involved shootings and accidental shootings.

The 2020 round of grants will also focus on research involving urban areas, domestic violence, mass shootings and gun regulations.

Research applicants have until Feb. 4 to submit a letter of interest at ncgvr.og.

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