Professor Focuses on Gun Violence Prevention

As politicians continue to debate the scope of gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, one Harvard faculty member is suggesting that more funds be dedicated to researching the effects of gun violence on public health.

David Hemenway ’66, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health and a lead researcher in the field of gun control, has been investigating the issue of gun violence for years. His studies suggest that gun violence in this country is caused by more than just simple legislative faults and that its regulation requires changing both public policy and social norms.

“A good approach to try to reduce our gun violence problem is the public health approach, which focuses on prevention and really emphasizes that you don’t have to wait till someone’s pulling the trigger to try to do something about that person,” Hemenway said. His recommendations include bolstering background checks and reinforcing serial numbers on firearms.

And although the Newtown tragedy has ignited recent media exposure, researchers like Hemenway have been debating the issue for years.

“We have a terrible gun problem,” Hemenway said. “In terms of violence, other than gun violence, we’re an average country­...but we have lots more guns and by far the weakest gun laws.”

Studies say that the United States has one of the highest levels of gun related violence in the world.

Prioritizing prevention can be best achieved when new policies are integrated with efforts to understand the social and cultural determinants of gun violence, according to Hemenway. Still, he added that the allocation of funds for research remains inadequate, making it difficult to collect data on the subject.

Hemenway’s sentiment was echoed in a recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association entitled “Silencing the Science on Gun Research.”

“It’s very, very sad when vested interests try to prevent research and science,” Hemenway said. “It’s almost impossible to get funding to do this research.”

Hemenway stressed its urgency.

“If not now, when?” he asked. “How many people have to die before the society steps up?”

—Staff writer Fatima Mirza can be reached at

—Staff writer Rachel J. Sapire can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Feb. 1, 2013

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated and included a headline indicating that Harvard School of Public Health professor David Hemenway ’66 discussed his research at a talk at HSPH on Thursday. In fact, he spoke about gun violence in a Thursday interview with The Crimson.