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179 Moving beyond ‘so what?’ into action
  1. Christen Rexing,
  2. Sara Shuman,
  3. Paige Pantalone
  1. La Salle University


National conversations about gun deaths are largely framed as community violence or mass shootings. However, gun suicides disproportionately contribute to the increase of gun deaths. Pennsylvania’s gun deaths and suicides outpace national rates, with rural communities disproportionately bearing the burden. Laws reducing gun access (e.g., ERPOS and Child Access Prevention) reduce gun suicides and overall gun deaths. Despite the evidence, Pennsylvania lawmakers fail to pass gun safety laws due to special interest pressures, ideology, and incorrect perceptions of the problem and corresponding solutions. The purpose of the study was to explore Pennsylvania lawmakers’ perceptions and understanding of gun suicides, if/how they use science to identify solutions, and their perceptions of legislative impasse. We conducted semi-structured interviews with a sample (n=9) of members of the Judiciary Committees from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate. Rural and suburban lawmakers identified suicide as a top concern in their districts. Few lawmakers relied on injury scientists to identify solutions or use it for framing the issue to colleagues and constituents. Some lawmakers relied on news stories or special interest groups, very few reported contacting researchers, despite robust local/regional expertise. Participants identified two roadblocks to law passage: 1) key colleagues captured by the NRA, and 2) rural constituents’ lack of understanding of the issue. They identified the need to message to constituents on gun suicides. Regardless of party, all lawmakers wanted to address this pressing health issue, with Republicans searching for answers outsides of scientific communities due to fears of bias. Moving the impact out of journals and into the hands of constituents and lawmakers is critical. Researchers can build relationships with news agencies and lawmakers to translate the science and build trust. Additionally, targeting messaging to rural lawmakers and constituents is critical to build support for evidence-based laws.

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