Finding Common Ground: Engaging the Firearms Community in Firearm Injury Research

The BulletPoints Project March 9, 2022


Chris Knoepke, PhD, MSW

Assistant Professor
Injury and Violence Prevention Center, The University of Colorado School of Medicine


It should not surprise anyone to hear that firearm injury prevention is a highly-charged area of health services and policy. The state of the science and realities of practice are too often out of alignment, and sociopolitical divides can make even the most incremental steps feel impossible. Implementation science, for all its wisdom and emerging cogence, hasn’t yet provided us with a roadmap for bridging the seeming cultural divide between violence prevention researchers or advocates and those who worry that implicating firearms in suicide and other injury prevention conversations would lead to rollbacks in what they consider a foundational legal right.

The notion that “community-based,” “participatory,” or “stakeholder-engaged” methods might hold some of these answers is not particularly new, but their application to the world of firearm violence research is. And through these conversations with the firearms community, we begin to see both the reasons for this cultural divide and opportunities for consensus. These areas of consensus are sometimes borne of universal human priorities (like the desire for safety), but can also result from understanding the heterogeneity of firearms owners, and what ideas these different groups offer for prevention within their own communities.

With the input of a devoted cadre of firearms owners and partners at other institutions, my colleagues at the University of Colorado and I have been hard at work attempting to understand these interlacing social dynamics – with the goal of designing and introducing methods, materials, and targeted violence-reduction interventions the firearms community can support. Some of our recent and ongoing qualitative work includes interviews and focus groups with older firearm owners, those who own firearm-related businesses, leaders of Second Amendment advocacy organizations, family members of firearm owners who have varying opinions and feelings about firearm ownership, law enforcement, Veteran groups, and others.1,2

Firearms owners’ voices must be heard in developing and implementing culturally respectful interventions.

This work is actively informing the form and content of resources and providing valuable insight into how to engage groups within the firearm owning community in potential solutions. For example, we’ve learned that people who are heavily involved in the firearms community are also most likely to agree with the notion that firearms themselves can be dangerous without appropriate training and precautions. Their insights into subgroups within the firearm-owning community can prove invaluable when attempting to design public health or community-based campaigns. We’ve also found that some of the most vociferous Second Amendment defenders are willing to put aside their reservations about lethal means counseling when either a person is at high risk of violence or when materials are provided to everyone alongside information about other injury risk factors.3 These are just a few of the many insights gained from centering the voices of the firearms community. With these concepts planted firmly in mind, we can begin to identify and develop strategies for firearm injury prevention that transcend sociopolitical divides, and are therefore more likely to succeed.

To learn more about this topic, watch the BulletPoints webinar episode on “Engaging Firearm Owners in Firearm Injury Prevention” with Chris Knoepke.


Clinical tools for preventing firearm injury

  1. Polzer, E. R., Nearing, K. A., Knoepke, C. E., et al. (2022). Firearm access and dementia: A qualitative study of reported behavioral disturbances and responses. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
  2. Betz, M. E., Rooney, L. A., Barnard, L. M., et al. (2022). Voluntary, temporary, out-of-home firearm storage: A qualitative study of stakeholder views. Suicide & Life-threatening Behavior.
  3. Knoepke, C. E., Allen, A., Ranney, M. L., et al. (2017). Loaded Questions: Internet Commenters' Opinions on Physician-Patient Firearm Safety Conversations. The Western Journal of Emergency Medicine.
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