Gun Policy, Gun Culture & Guns across the U.S.: What Makes Us Safer?

Bisakha Sen

University of Alabama at Birmingham

This project was funded on:
15 June 2013
This is a timely project because of the newly reignited political debate about gun background checks.

Since we will compile and use data that has already been collected by various agencies, we anticipate being able to complete the project and get the papers out within 6 months. This should help inform policy-makers.

Also, as funding for gun violence prevention research becomes available again, the findings from this project will serve as ‘pilot studies’ that we can utilize to put together a large-scale project involving more complex data.


Budget Overview

The advantage of this project is that it will not require primary data collection. We will be gathering existing data from several different sources, primarily gathered by the CDC. The funds will be used to pay two graduate students (one doctoral student in public health, one law student) to collect, clean and compile the data, and, for each state, to create a distance-weighted index of policies and gun culture in surrounding states.

Each graduate student student will work 10 hrs per week, and be paid $16 per hour (participating in research projects is the primary source of financial support for our graduate students, so the wage helps them pay their tuition and support themselves).

Per my university’s requirements, I also need to support my own salary (including benefits like health insurance and retirement!) for the time I spend on this project. I plan to commit one full day a week (20% of my time) to this project for the next 6 months. I will use this time to conduct the empirical analyses, supervise the literature review, and prepare the manuscripts. We anticipate that the project will result in THREE publishable papers (gun policies and gun deaths, gun policies and other crime, gun policies and access to guns among teens).

I will also cover any added costs (supplies, travel, consulting with other researchers) from my own start-up research fund account.

Meet the Researcher


Dr. Sen's research primarily investigates how state policies and laws affect the health and safety of people. Gun policy is one area that particularly interests her. Dr. Sen’s name has been recommended by her associate dean for the Institute of Medicine’s committee on ‘CDC Gun Violence Prevention Research Agenda’. Dr. Sen is also going up for full professorship this year.

Press and Media

My project was recently mentioned in the New York Times, Slate, and media.

I recently was lead author on two papers on how state policies on gun background checks affect firearm deaths. One was published in the peer-reviewed journal Preventive Medicine in Dec, 2012. ScienceDaily has covered this paper in an article here.

The other is coming out later this year in a book called ‘Assaults: Prevalence, Prevention & Psychological Implications’.


Q: To what extent will non-fatal displays be tracked (that is showing a gun to a would-be assailant who then flees the scene). To what extent will defensive uses of guns be separated from offensive uses (shooting a rapist who invaded your home compared to shooting a neighbor whom one suspects of stealing the newspaper)?

A: Great questions. One of our data sources is going to be FBI Uniform Crime Reports expanded data, where homicides are categorizies as 'justifiable' (a felon shot by a cop or private citizen in course of attempting a crime), so we will be able to look at whether gun policies affect ratio of 'justifiable' homicides to 'bad' homicides. The data is not perfect, since sometimes crime reports can have that field left blank, but its pretty good. Unfortunately there is no available national level data for non-fatal displays,but if one extends that logic -- such displays should prevent crimes like robbery/rape/assault. That is why tracing those is one of our main hypotheses. It is often argued that background checks etc will keep the guns out of hands of 'good people' while criminals will still have unlimited access. If that were the case, then one might expect these kinds of crimes to go up. And that is why we will test that too. Hope that helps. Thank you for your questions.

Relevant Publications

Bisakha Sen, Anantachai Panjamapirom
State background checks for gun purchase and firearm deaths: An exploratory study. Preventive Medicine, Volume 55, Issue 4, October 2012, Pages 346–350

Project Backers

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