The CDC Can’t Fund Gun Research. What if that Changed?

America doesn't have good data on guns. Blame the Dickey amendment. First introduced in 1996, the legislation didn't ban gun investigations explicitly (it forbade the use of federal dollars in the advocacy or promotion of gun control), but Congress that year also cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the exact amount it had previously devoted to firearm research. It's had a chilling effect on the field ever since. (While some states and private foundations are conducting peer reviewed studies on gun violence, the federal government has been AWOL.) That means policymakers in Washington have little information about what causes gun violence, how it can be prevented or reduced, and who is most at risk.

But that could change. The February 14 killings in Parkland, Florida led a bipartisan group of lawmakers to consider repealing the Dickey amendment and resuming government-backed gun-research. Which raises a pressing question: If the CDC were to resume funding studies on the epidemiology of firearm violence, what questions would they want to answer right now?

"We don't know enough about the risk factors, for either the perpetrators or victims of gun violence," says Garen Wintemute, an ER physician and director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.

Wintemute says that one of the big predictors of future gun violence is a history of other forms of violence, like domestic abuse. But connecting the dots between prior behavior and future threat is difficult—especially on an individual basis. That said, researchers think that by identifying early signals and studying them more closely, they could help police and social service agents make better decisions about when to intervene.

He also wants to study the psychological impact that high rates of gun violence can have on communities. Does living in place where gunfire or gun violence is common make someone more or less likely to use a gun in the future? Social scientists say they don't know the answer yet.

As for preventing the next mass shooting, experts say they don't know enough about the effectiveness of proposed interventions. Take, for instance, the "gun restraining order" laws recently enacted in California, Oregon and Washington. Such regulations allow family members as well as law enforcement to ask a judge to confiscate guns from people deemed to pose "a serious risk of harm." (In San Diego County, ten gun owners recently received court orders to surrender their weapons under the new law.) It sounds like a good idea in theory, but to expand such laws to other states, or the federal level, policymakers would need to make a case for their effectiveness. And at least for now, the data on whether the laws have a measurable impact on either suicides or murders just doesn't exist.

“There isn’t any information other than anecdotal,” says Shannon Frattaroli, associate professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Frattaroli says a key factor, when it comes to studying the effectiveness of firearm policies, is being able to follow weapons. One way to track how violence spreads is by tracing implicated weapons to their source. In big cities plagued by gun violence, these weapons are often bought and sold illegally. "We need to understand where guns are coming from, how they get from the legal market to the hands of people who are prohibited to purchase them," Frattaroli says. "That’s important to know if we want to get a handle on the flow of guns."

Doing so will require a lot more money, time, and resources than researchers currently possess. That’s where the CDC might serve as both a deep-pocketed grant-making agency, as well as a clearinghouse for various databases on gun violence and gun ownership. A boost in funding would also attract more and better scientists to the field, whose numbers have dwindled since the Dickey amendment went into effect. “As I recruit new investigators, it has been a critical question for applicants: 'Will I have a job in a couple years, or will I have to look for a job in another field because there’s no funding,'" Wintemute says.

Social scientist and ER docs like Frattaroli and Wintemute are encouraged by the possibility that Congress might direct the CDC to renew gun research. President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Alex Azar, said the day after the Florida shootings that he backs such efforts. But this shift might take a while. The agency has been without a leader since January, when director Brenda Fitzgerald resigned after news reports that she purchased tobacco stocks after taking office. Any big change in the status quo of the amendment—and more money for gun violence research—will probably have to wait for a change in control of Congress.

Gun Shy

  • The United States has never funded a research center to study gun violence—so last year, California started one on its own.

  • If the CDC's commitment to gun violence research expands, it could be a surprise to these researchers, who raced to protect the little data they had from the Trump administration.

  • If it doesn't, though, researchers will continue to find novel ways to work around their utter lack of data, like this group that rifled through old gun magazines for information.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/what-if-the-cdc-could-fund-gun-research/

How to protect yourself when live video shows a suicide

Image: Shutterstock / Pressmaster

The thrill of social media is often the possibility of surprise. It’s fun to log on and see which viral videos, political rants, news stories, and baby pictures your friends and family have shared.

What we don’t expect is to see someone die. Watching a suicide attempt (or murder) in real time is not part of the bargain we’ve made to stay connected with the world. And yet it happens. Earlier this week, a Thai man killed his infant daughter and himself on Facebook Live. The video appeared on both Facebook and YouTube before being taken down by the companies.

While such incidents are rare, even news coverage of them can make us feel sad or angry. For some people, learning explicit details about these tragedies may lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior. We know this from years of research, but the phenomenon of broadcasting suicide via live video is so new that even experts in suicide prevention are grappling with how to understand its emotional impact.

“This whole medium has not existed long enough for us to have a good understanding of how it might be different from what you might see in the newspaper or on a TV show,” says Victor Schwartz, chief medical officer of The Jed Foundation, a suicide prevention nonprofit.

“Theres nothing more lurid than seeing something like this in real time.”

He suspects, however, that witnessing a suicide on social media can be as bad or even worse for our emotional health as encountering graphic details in the media: “Theres nothing more lurid than seeing something like this in real time.”

That violence could be overwhelming and deeply disturbing, particularly for people who are at risk for or already experience anxiety or depression, or are struggling with their own suicidal impulses.

To ease that anguish, Schwartz recommends first walking away from its source. “If you were eating or drinking something that tasted [bad], you would stop,” he says. “This is the same thing we cant control what [we see] online, but you can spit it out.”

Once you’ve got some distance, find ways to make that space bigger. Try talking to a supportive, trusted friend about the emotions you felt after watching or hearing about the suicide. Sit down with a TV show that makes you laugh, take a walk or run, or do something else that gives you joy. Essentially, says Schwartz, find ways to distract yourself.

Taking action is important too. If you see a suicide attempt take place on a social media platform, report it to the company. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat all provide users a way to report suicidal behavior or content, and Schwartz says following those guidelines can make someone feel less helpless. (If someone appears to be in immediate danger, you can also contact local law enforcement or 911.) Finally, he urges people experiencing relentless despair or suicidal thoughts to discuss their feelings, seek profession help, or call or text a hotline.

Testing how suicide on live video affects people would be unethical, which is partly why we don’t know its consequences for our emotional health. Yet Madelyn Gould, a professor of epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia University who specializes in suicide prevention research, believes the existing evidence on the “contagion effect” of suicide is robust enough to suggest that it could harm certain people.

Most of these studies look retrospectively at whether the suicide rate spikes after a high-profile incident and show there appears to be some association between media reports and increases in the suicide rate. Those most affected are likely to be emotionally vulnerable people who can identify with the person who died. So geography, gender, age, and other factors can make a difference in how someone perceives the death, whether it relates to their own life, and how it could influence their frame of mind.

Gould is less worried that we lack research on the impact of seeing a suicide on live video and more concerned that the norms around suicide may be changing to the point where people see it as a widespread, acceptable outcome.

Talking about suicide requires a careful balance of acknowledging how and why it happens while avoiding making it seem inevitable, glamorous, or the best solution to ending one’s pain. That’s why she and other prevention experts were so alarmed by the vivid portrayal of suicide in the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, in which the main female character meticulously plans her suicide almost as a means of revenge against those who bullied and assaulted her.

“Its ok to talk about your fears or concerns about what youve seen or felt.”

Gould, among other advocates, wants to focus more time on encouraging healthy conversations about self-harm, including coping strategies, how to get help, and spreading the knowledge that many people who have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide can still lead happy lives.

These are all things to focus on the next time a suicide airs live on social media. And don’t be afraid to express what it meant to encounter that imagery or reporting or to listen to someone else trying to make sense of that.

“Its O.K. to talk about your fears or concerns about what youve seen or felt,” says Schwartz.

If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Lineat 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a listof international resources.

WATCH: Break free from social media with this minimal phone

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/04/30/dealing-with-emotions-of-live-video-suicide/