Category Archives: Gun Violence Prevention

Gun violence and data for public health

Last year, the “Peace Studies and Action” class I teach at Swarthmore College adopted gun violence prevention as the semester’s topic for study. It seemed appropriate to learn more about a problem of violence that is prominent in our region. In 2012, 284 out of 331 homicides in Philadelphia were committed with guns.

Police examining shooting scene

Photograph for the Gun Crisis Reporting Project by Joseph Kaczmarek.

I was inspired to pursue the topic by my former colleague at Swarthmore, the Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist, Jim MacMillan, who founded guncrisis.org to bring the tools of professional journalists to bear on the gun violence epidemic in Philadelphia.

My students this semester are writing weekly blog posts on our internal class website. I hope to join them (as often as I can) and also place my posts here on my public blog.

This week we are reading David Hemenway’s Private Guns, Public Health, which summarizes the public health approach to gun injuries and deaths. As Hemenway explains, “[P]ublic health focuses directly on prevention–eliminating the problem before something bad happens” (p. 9).

That includes careful data collection in the service of figuring out how to make environments more safe.

Philadelphia County has made crime data publicly available, and a Weapons Related Incident Survey System (WRISS) was established in 2002 to compile data about all shooting incidents in the county.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has established its own online interactive mapped database that featured in an informational video developed by Jim MacMillan.

guncrisis.org has recently used its own reporting to track gun deaths in January 2014.

The service project we are undertaking as a class this semester follows a public health approach as we are seeking to build a simple database like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s database for Delaware County. (I anticipate that our attempts to find the data may be as educational as any other dimension of the course.)

We hope a database will help inform a wide range of efforts, both governmental and non- governmental because, as I also learned this week, public health is not just about the science but about organizing stakeholders for change.

Follow our class hashtag #swatgvp on Twitter or via Storify where our tweets will be bundled.

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