Home » News » Lack of data hinders firearms research | Q&A with Robin Jenkins, FPG Institute

Lack of data hinders firearms research | Q&A with Robin Jenkins, FPG Institute

robin jenkins; man in light blue shirt stands in office hallway with bank of windows along the side

Lack of data hinders firearms research | Q&A with Robin Jenkins, FPG Institute

February 20, 2023

A New York Times Magazine report in December revealed that gun violence recently passed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children, with 3,597 children dying by gunfire in 2021. But in explaining the reporting behind this grim news, the magazine’s editors pointed out another critical problem: “There is no comprehensive data describing the nature of each fatal shooting in America.”

It’s a problem close to the heart of Robin Jenkins, PhD, associate director and senior implementation specialist at the Impact Center in the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG). He’s a co-founding board member of the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives, whose goal is to work with federal and state policymakers to embed prevention strategies and prevention science in evidence-based policymaking.

“We should just better understand what’s happening with firearms and the consequences of having so many firearms in our culture. That’s the fundamental issue here. We just need to understand it. We need to better plan for a research infrastructure that informs decision-making concerning firearms,” Jenkins said.

As an implementation specialist and a former chief deputy secretary in the state’s juvenile justice system, Jenkins contributed practical experience to “A Blueprint for a U.S. Firearms Data Infrastructure,” 2020 report of expert recommendations on how to improve the collection of data about gun violence.

“It didn’t make much sense to craft high-vision recommendations in the report that weren’t going to be doable,” Jenkins said. “Fundamentally, you want to reduce every barrier possible. Implementation science really looks at how you create that fit — feasibility, usability, cost/benefit — that will make something more likely to be adopted, used as designed and sustained on a day-to-day basis.”

Some of the recommendations are now being considered for implementation at the federal level, he said, with Congress allocating several million dollars for gun violence research and firearms-related information systems building. A major step forward has been the transition to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, which includes more robust information about firearms activities and whether the incident was cleared.

UNC's The Well asked Jenkins to share his expertise about the lack of information on gun violence and how it can be addressed. To learn what he had to say, find the full article from The Well here: Lack of data hinders firearms research.