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Morrison Institute presents data on firearm deaths in Arizona

The Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety presented data analysis of firearm fatalities

20200129 Firearm Deaths in Arizona Symposium 0002

Professor Charles Katz, the family director of ASU's Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, gives a presentation during the Firearm Deaths in Arizona Symposium on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020.

The Morrison Institute for Public Policy hosted a public presentation on firearm deaths in Arizona from the start of 2015 to the end of 2017 on Wednesday and highlighted that deaths have increased over that time period. 

In addition to presenting data on the types of deaths due to firearms, the report also featured policy recommendations to prevent and reduce gun-related fatalities in Arizona. 

The co-authors of the project and presenters of the data were David Schlinkert, a senior policy analyst, and Melissa Kovacs, the associate director for research at the Morrison Institute. 

Kovacs said that the goal of the report is to "inform public dialogue" and "inform policy makers and decision makers, citizens and voters" about firearms in Arizona. 

The total number of fatalities in Arizona from firearm incidents was 3,188 in the three-year span the data was collected, according to the report. 

Of those deaths, suicides made up 71% and homicides were 23%. The rest were accidental deaths, from legal intervention or unaccounted for. 

Total gun deaths increased over the span of the study, with the homicide rate increasing 27% and the suicide rate increasing 14%. 

Many victims of suicide suffered from a mental health problem, accounting for 45% of all circumstances of suicide. The most common life stressor indicated for suicide was a physical health problem, accounting for 26% of suicides, while only 1% of suicides listed a school problem as the main stressor.

The Morrison Institute used the National Violent Death Reporting System to create their report. Although the system was created in 2002, Arizona joined in 2014. The system collects data on homicides, suicides, deaths of undetermined intent and unintentional deaths due to firearms. 

The AZ-VDRS data is mainly sourced from death certificates, medical examiners, and law enforcement reports. 

Assisting in presenting the AZ-VDRS project findings was Charles Katz, the family director of the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety and professor at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Katz presented several policy recommendations after the data presentation, including incorporating background checks into all gun sales including private sellers, child access prevention laws and revoking stand-your-ground laws. 

Katz also advocated for increased participation in the AZ-VDRS project for the Indigenous population, a group that is under-represented in the data. 

"Some years that we've examined this data when you combine suicides and homicides, American Indians have the highest rate of violent death in the state," Katz said. 

In addition to Katz's presentation, his essay, "Arizonans' Perspectives on Gun Control," says that Arizona state law does not reflect the opinions of the state's constituents. 

"There is clear and overwhelming support for universal background checks in Arizona and as such, legislation requiring universal background checks should be immediately considered," Katz wrote in the essay.  

Schlinkert said that there were some challenges that came with working with such a large quantity of raw data.

"When you are working with large data sets, it's hard to pull together specific information when there are three sources we are cross-referencing," Schlinkert said. 

David Choate, a senior research analyst at ASU's CVPCS, highlighted two obstacles in the project's data collection. 

The first was non-participating law enforcement agencies, notably the Maricopa County Sheriff's department. Choate also highlighted a lack of detailed reporting as an obstacle in more comprehensive data collection. 

"With suicide, they may not collect what kind of firearm is used and it isn’t necessarily law enforcement's fault," Choate said. "Many times, suicides are not treated as active criminal investigations, so we just have to retrain the culture around investigating suicides."

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