Guiding Evidence for Gun Violence Prevention: Q&A with Daniel Webster

In his 2014 TEDMED talk, Daniel Webster, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, examines some surprisingly hopeful possibilities that exist for a controversial public policy conundrum that seems to have no universally acceptable answer. We asked Daniel a few questions to learn more.

I don’t think that the level of gun violence we experience now is here to stay. Nor is it built into American culture or American law.  I believe that within 20 years, the United States can reduce our murder rates by 30% to 50%.
“I don’t think that the level of gun violence we experience now is here to stay. Nor is it built into American culture or American law. I believe that within 20 years, the United States can reduce our murder rates by 30% to 50%.” Daniel Webster, TEDMED 2014

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

I felt that I had important perspectives and research to help America address one of its most important and vexing public health problems.  Unless you know the data and have a long-term perspective, it is easy for those who desperately want to see change to think reducing gun violence in America is hopeless.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

Recent political gridlock in Washington, DC on almost all issues, including guns, can prevent the vast majority who support stronger laws to keep guns from dangerous people from engaging on the issue, surrendering important policy decisions to people with the most extreme views and vested financial interests.  If people realize that there are policies that can keep guns from dangerous people and save many lives and that those policies are supported by an overwhelming majority of gun owners, things could dramatically change for the better.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

I met Leana Wen– she gave one the best talks that I heard.  Only months later, I was pleased to find that Dr. Wen had accepted the position of Health Commissioner of Baltimore, where I work. She has championed a public health program to reduce gun violence in Baltimore that is run out of the Health Department that I have been involved in evaluating. The program has helped to quell the violence that has taken over many Baltimore neighborhoods since May in the small number of neighborhoods where they are working.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

One of a scientist that has produced solid evidence to show that strong gun laws that are supported by the majority of gun owners save lives. And someone who respects gun owners and knows that that the majority of gun owners favor policies that research suggests would lead to many fewer lives lost.

Is there anything else you really wish you could have included in your talk?

I wish I could have mentioned my latest research findings that show that handgun purchaser licensing laws appear to have reduced homicides and suicides in Connecticut after it adopted such a law while increasing homicides and suicides in Missouri after the state repealed handgun purchaser licensing requirements.

What’s next for you?

I am continuing several research projects examining the effects of background check requirements and firearm restrictions for domestic violence offenders. In Baltimore, we are examining the effects of public health outreach and conflict mediation to reduce shootings, focused deterrence programs directed at those at highest risk for involvement in gun violence, and drug and gun law enforcement approaches.  I’m also deeply involved in studying policy solutions to the epidemic of overdose deaths due to prescription opioids and heroin.