A Call to Action on Gun Violence

A new national initiative is putting social workers on the front line in the fight against firearm deaths.

street sign reading stop gun violence.

Firearms are the No. 1 killer of children and teens in the United States according to recent reports, having overtaken motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death.

A University at Buffalo researcher is set on changing this troubling trend. Alongside other social work researchers from around the country, she is co-leading a new national endeavor—the Grand Challenge to Prevent Gun Violence—to confront the scourge head-on.

Countering a backlash

“There have been a number of highly successful public initiatives, such as safer cars and safer car seats, and mandatory seat belt use, that have kept kids safer in motor vehicles,” said Patricia Logan-Greene, associate professor in UB’s School of Social Work. “We can’t eliminate motor vehicle deaths, nor will we be able to eliminate firearm deaths for kids, but gun deaths are increasing for children.”

The difference between cars and guns, she went on to explain, is that there is so much backlash against public health measures that might prevent deaths from the latter. She cited the Dickey Amendment, a rider to a 1997 spending bill that for decades prohibited federally funded gun violence research, significantly thwarting study efforts and allowing gun violence to grow.

The new initiative—the latest addition to the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare’s Grand Challenges program—brings increased energy, attention and effort on the part of social workers to help kickstart research, inform practice and develop guidance. Researchers from across the U.S. have already gathered to begin drafting an agenda.

Hope on the horizon

There is cause for optimism, said Logan-Greene. There is already a push among pediatricians, emergency room physicians and trauma surgeons to talk about firearm safety and ways to limit firearm access for those in crisis.

And the field of social work is uniquely positioned to deeply engage with this issue.

Logan-Greene said the ongoing relationships that social workers have with those most at risk of firearm violence, whether as a result of suicide, homicide or accidents, equips them to effectively address the problem.

“If we could mobilize the nation’s social workers to talk about these issues with clients, especially clients in crisis or clients with a family member in crisis,” she said, “I genuinely believe we can reduce the number of deaths.”