Winter 2020

Smoking gun


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40,000 Americans are killed each year as a result of gun violence. But little research has been done on gun-related deaths and accidents because of restrictions on government funding.

Some U of M public health students are trying to learn more about one aspect of the issue: background checks during private sales. They identified 4.9 million active firearms listings from July 2008 to June 2018 on Armslist.com, an online marketplace much like Craigslist. “Private sales are not regulated by federal law and don’t require background checks,” says Ashley Hernandez, a doctoral candidate in the School of Public Health and recipient of a Dinnaken Fellowship.

Only 9 percent of listings studied indicated that they required a background check.

Hernandez says the next phase of their research will break down the data by state. (Some states have laws mandating background checks.) “Firearm-related injuries and deaths are increasing in the United States,” she says. “We hope to help policymakers understand that these online marketplaces shouldn’t be overlooked.”

Hernandez says having a fellowship made her role in the study possible. “This is a controversial topic,” she says. “Having a funding source like the Dinnaken Fellowship facilitated my ability to research this.”