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UAlbany Researcher Examines Transmission of Gun Violence

A recent study led by UAlbany researcher Melissa Tracy examinines the relationship between gun violence within social networks and individual gun violence risk.

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 12, 2016) -- University at Albany researcher Melissa Tracy has released a study asserting that a better understanding of the relationship between gun violence within social networks and individual gun violence risk is critical in preventing the spread of gun violence within communities.

The study, published online in the journal Epidemiologic Reviews, examines current scientific evidence on the transmission of gun and other weapon-related violence in household, intimate partner, peer, and co-offending social networks.

The available research suggests that gun violence diffuses -- similar to an epidemic -- among people and across places through social relationships. Gun violence also tends to cluster among a small fraction of the population. The authors believe that identifying and disrupting the spread of gun and other weapon violence within high-risk networks holds great potential for reducing the burden of violence and its consequences in the population, according to a systematic review of gun-violence studies.

UAlbany Associate Professor of Public Health Melissa Tracy
Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Melissa Tracy

Their review suggests that exposure to a victim or perpetrator of violence in one’s interpersonal relationships and social networks increases the risk of being a victim of gun violence or becoming a perpetrator of gun violence. Physical violence by parents and weapon use by intimate partners also increase risk for victimization and perpetration.

Additionally, studies of gun-carrying in households, peer networks, and gangs confirm the central role of gun-carrying as an important link in the transmission of gun violence within social networks.

"Taken together, the studies included in the review confirm the notion that gun violence has important origins in, and consequences for networks of individuals, and future research must consider how connections between individuals promote or reduce the spread of gun violence in the population," said Tracy, an assistant professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UAlbany’s School of Public Health.

The review also suggests that children exposed to violence in their households, including domestic violence disputes or the gun victimization of a family member, should be targeted for interventions. The goal of the interventions should be aimed at improving psychosocial functioning, reducing behavioral problems, and learning conflict resolution strategies that do not involve violence. Adult household members may also benefit from parenting and conflict resolution training, for example, through home visitation programs, whether they are living in a household prone to domestic conflict or in areas where gun violence is common.

Similarly, women or men who have been the victim of threats or use of a gun or other weapon by an intimate partner are in need of intervention to prevent further escalation of violence. Health-care practitioners should question individuals not only about domestic violence but also about abusers' access to a gun and should provide appropriate referrals to services and information regarding serious risks in such situations.

The authors recommend that additional work is needed to better characterize the mechanisms through which network exposures increase individual risk for violence and to evaluate interventions aimed at disrupting the spread of gun and other weapon violence in high-risk social networks. Tracy’s co-authors include Professor Criminology Anthony A. Braga of the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice, and Yale University Associate Professor of Sociology Andrew V. Papachristos.

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