The Boston University School of Public Health has a spectacular location in South Boston, just steps away from Boston Medical with an impressive presence on the Boston University Medical Campus. The mission of the School of Public Health is to promote health equality on both a local and global scale, and through research and innovation to significantly improve the health and well-being of disadvantaged and medically under-served communities. Throughout my internship I will be working directly with Dr. Michael Siegel of the Department of Community Health Sciences. I first had the pleasure of working alongside Dr. Siegel when I assisted with his research on the impact of internet alcohol advertisements on teenage alcohol abuse two summers ago. After I learned that Dr. Siegel planned to conduct research this summer on the intersection between intimate partner and firearm violence, I jumped at the opportunity to join his research team again. My first week working on Dr. Siegel’s research team was exciting and stimulating, and I got the sense that I was going to have a lot of responsibilities for multiple parts of the project this summer. The other professors and students working on this project were incredibly welcoming, and throughout the week I was able to spend a bit of time with each team member to learn how they are contributing to the project.
In a powerful article on gun violence and increasing homicide rates, “Who Mourns for Brianna?”, Dr. Siegel writes,
“Somehow, there is a human tendency to pay more attention to a single tragic event than to a pattern of fatal violence that occurs on a regular basis. Maybe we need to reconsider what counts as a tragedy worthy of commemoration, versus a “normal,” everyday occurrence that we merely accept as a way of life.” (http://www.bu.edu/today/2014/pov-who-mourns-for-brianna/)
On the first day of our research, Dr. Siegel explained that in the wake of tragedies, such as Newtown (and subsequently Orlando), it is easy to forget that gun violence and deaths due to firearms occur every single day and affect thousands of lives. Although most of my responsibilities include punching numbers and data/statistical analysis, each day Dr. Siegel urges me not to forget that we are fighting for individuals, real children, parents, friends, and loved ones who have been affected by gun violence, through our research. According to recent data from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, it is five times more likely that a woman will be killed by her abuser if the abuser owns a firearm, and in 2011, nearly two-thirds of women killed with guns were killed by their intimate partners. (http://smartgunlaws.org/domestic-violence-firearms-policy-summary/) However, in my first week, Dr. Siegel set this extremely powerful and especially motivating tone for the summer that our research would truly mean something and matter to the individual lives lost every year to domestic gun violence!
My job for the first part of the project is to construct an extensive database on specific state firearm laws in order to determine how weak/strong individual state laws are concerning controls on firearm ownership/purchase for domestic violence offenders. We will then compare this data on gun control laws to the number of intimate partner homicides that occur state-by-state. From there, we will be able to extract data on which state gun control laws are the most powerful and effective in preventing intimate partner homicides, and will have the capability to make suggestions for public policy revisions regarding gun control. I hope that my work will not only help Dr. Siegel and the Dept. of Community Health Sciences with their research, but will significantly minimize the number of people who may be affected by intimate partner gun violence in the future.
One learning goal for this summer is to gain a deeper understanding of the scientific research project from beginning to end, a very attainable goal, since I have been participating in the conceptualization of our project’s research questions with Dr. Siegel, and at the end of our project we will write and submit a paper for publication. I also hope to integrate and fuse my passions for research and advocacy this summer by learning to use empirical research to suggest changes in public policy that would reduce social injustices caused by gun violence.
Rachel Kurland, ’18
Social Justice Fellow