Mass shooting in Maine: U-M experts available to comment

NOTE: Firearm injury prevention research will be the focus of a national conference next week in Chicago. It is organized by the Research Society for the Prevention of Firearm-Related Harms, of which the University of Michigan is a founding member.

University of Michigan experts are available to discuss various aspects of the mass shooting in Maine, from firearm injury prevention to public policy and the psychology of traumatic events with children.

Experts include:

Marc Zimmerman is co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention , co-principal investigator of the National Center for School Safety, and professor of psychology and of health behavior and health education. Research led by Zimmerman shows that engaging local residents in community greening efforts can lead to a substantial reduction in firearm violence, and that empowering adolescents to become change agents for community improvement projects improves their positive behaviors and reduces aggression and violence.

"The events last night demonstrate the complexity of firearm violence, and show the urgent need to address this epidemic with multifaceted evidence-based solutions,” he said. "Unfortunately, the underlying causes and antecedents of mass shootings are not all the same so the solutions are complex and prevention extends from family life to schools and our communities, and includes social and public policies.

"We can find these solutions by building a base of information that can help change the narrative and make firearm safety a top priority. To do this, we must work together to ensure individuals and communities have access to evidence-based prevention strategies that do not infringe upon any one person’s rights, but instead protect them while also making the necessary changes our society needs to end this epidemic. Ultimately, we need to find common ground and work together to solve this critical public health crisis.”

Patrick Carter is co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention , associate professor of emergency medicine and of health behavior and health education. In addition to being an emergency physician, he conducts research that focuses on firearm injury prevention across the spectrum of injury prevention, from understanding the epidemiology of the problem to prevention-focused solutions for at-risk individuals and communities.

"Over the past decade, we have witnessed an increase in the number and severity of these types of tragic incidents, with each incident having devastating impacts on families and the communities that surround them,” he said. The shootings in Maine "are a reminder of the urgent need to address the problem of firearm injury using comprehensive data-driven solutions, especially those that focus on ways we can prevent these devastating incidents from occurring in the first place.

"We have applied the science of injury prevention to other serious societal problems-most notably motor vehicle crash prevention-reducing death and injury substantially over the past half-century. We need to continue to increase the focus on firearm injury prevention by identifying key aspects underlying this public health problem and developing and implementing evidence-based solutions that focus on achieving our common goals of decreasing firearm death and injury.”

April Zeoli is an associate professor of health management policy and faculty member of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention. Her main fields of investigation are the prevention of firearm violence, intimate partner violence, and homicide through the use of policy and law. She leads the largest study of extreme risk protection orders to date, which involves roughly 7,000 cases from six states.

"Extreme risk protection orders are being used in cases in which an individual threatens to commit a mass shooting,” she said. "My six-state study found that roughly 10% of extreme risk protection order petitions were filed due to threats to shoot at least three people. By making sure that the people who make these threats do not have access to firearms, we may be able to prevent mass shootings.

"Research has shown that well-implemented firearm policy that is based on evidence-based risk factors can be effective in reducing all types of firearm injury. However, there is a patchwork of firearm policies in the United States, in which some states have evidence-based firearm policies while others do not. The outcome of this is that the level of protection citizens have from gun violence may depend, in part, on in which state they live.”

Cynthia Ewell Foster is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and faculty member of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention. Her research program is focused on youth suicide prevention, with particular interests in family, community and systems-based interventions, including interventions to promote firearm safe storage and other public health approaches to the prevention of suicide and homicide.

"Firearms are responsible for over half of our nation’s suicide deaths,” she said. "Research is clear that putting time and distance between someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis and a firearm is a life-saving intervention. It is important to remember that the vast majority of people struggling with mental health problems are not violent toward others. We have effective treatments for many mental health concerns and it is key to continue to make these mental health supports more accessible in our communities.

"Firearm injuries are the leading cause of death among children and teens in the U.S. as of 2020 and resulted in over 48,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2021, the latest year for which we have complete data. This is a public health emergency impacting our nation’s youth and we have to come together with a multidisciplinary science-based approach to solve this problem.”

Sandra Graham-Bermann is a professor of psychology whose research explores the impact of family violence on children.

"While this is not easy, most people who have witnessed or been involved in a traumatic event grieve and adjust over time. Grieving is a normal part of recovering from traumatic events,” she said. "While it is normal for those involved to have nightmares or intrusive memories concerning the violence, perhaps to become hypervigilant, depressed or anxious, these symptoms usually abate over time.

"But some children and adults may continue to have symptoms of traumatic stress that interfere with school or work, with social relationships, and with their optimal development as teenagers or young adults. Schools and parents can provide support for the grieving process. Long term symptoms that could turn into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder require professional help.”

Mark Ilgen is a clinical psychologist, professor of psychiatry, director of U-M Addiction Treatment Services and member of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention. Much of his current work focuses on improving treatment outcomes for patients struggling with substance use disorders and complicated co-occurring problems, particularly chronic pain, other psychiatric disorders, and suicide risk. His firearm research includes a scoping review focused on primary screening or interventions for primary prevention of pediatric firearm injuries and work with veteran populations related to firearm possession and suicide rates.