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School and Program Updates

Columbia: Epidemiology Chair Dr. Charlie Branas Joins Gun Violence Discussion Hosted by Rep. Nita Lowey

Dr. Charlie Branas, chair of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, took part in a roundtable discussion on gun violence prevention organized by NY Congresswoman Ms. Nita Lowey. Dr. Branas, who studies gun violence as a public health issue, shared his insights and responded to the perspectives of survivors, relatives of victims, activists, law enforcement, and students.

Ms. Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, supports legislation to ban assault weapons and online sale of ammunition and enhance background checks. In March, the Committee held its first hearing in 20-plus years on gun violence prevention research and included $50 million in the health spending bill to support this research. This was the first time that funds for this purpose passed the House since FY 1997.

At the afternoon meeting in Greenburgh, New York, Dr. Branas spoke about a recent study he led that found elevated rates of mass shootings in states with more permissive gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership. Echoing a comment by a survivor of the Las Vegas shooting, the professor said weapons can cross state lines, diminishing the potential of more restrictive states like NY to curb gun violence beyond the success they’ve already shown.

Dr. Branas has researched gun violence for 25 years, contributing several seminal studies. His 2004 paper showing firearms pose a danger to both rural and urban Americans was cited in a landmark 2008 Supreme Court decision. Another reported that people who carried guns were more than four times more likely to be shot than those unarmed. Recent research by Dr. Branas reported on a cost-effective intervention to curb gun violence by restoring neglected buildings and lots.

Dr. Branas noted that the move to provide federal support for research was encouraging. “We have really only scratched the surface scientifically.”

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