Over the past few months, mass shootings have wrecked communities in cities like Uvalde, Texas; Highland Park, Illinois; and Buffalo, New York. These tragic incidents have reignited conversations about how guns can exist safely and how gun violence can be successfully reduced in the United States. But unfortunately, this sequence of events is reminiscent of a deadly cycle of gun violence, mass shootings, and polarizing political debates that has plagued the country and claimed over a million lives in the past fifty years. Now, it’s more important than ever for researchers, educators, politicians, students, and the rest of the country to come together and work towards effective solutions.
In today’s digital age, technology continues to spread influence and innovation while intersecting with almost every major issue faced by society – the gun violence epidemic is no exception. Studies have suggested that social media has contributed to the rise and proliferation of gun violence across the country by encouraging imitative behaviors, provoking retaliative actions, and offering “bragging rights” in some online communities1,2,3. In addition, social media has made private information such as real-time locations, personal violent imagery and discourse, and gang threats and affiliations easily accessible to the public. This widely available information has led to firearm-related injuries and fatalities, such as in the case of Gakirah Barnes, a Chicago teenager who was killed a few blocks away from her house after revealing her address and posting about her gang associations on Twitter4.
Despite these negative connotations, technology and social media have the power to reverse these trends and develop productive solutions. Recent research has focused on identifying unique patterns in social media data that may suggest the timings, locations, methods, and reasons behind occurrences of gun violence4. These social media data patterns can also be used to predict stress levels and protect well-being after gun-related incidents, which can help reduce the related consequences5. Other studies are exploring how healthcare workers can positively influence social media users by running national public health-based hashtag campaigns to promote advocacy efforts6.
Outside of social media, other forms of technology have also demonstrated potential in reducing firearm injuries and their associated outcomes. SmartGuns, for one, have been introduced as a way to use recognition technology, such as radio frequency identification or fingerprint readers, to ensure that unauthorized users are unable to fire a gun, which would prevent unintentional shootings, gun theft, and teen suicide7. In addition, programs such as gunfire detection technologies, artificial intelligence firearm recognition, and automated license plate readers are being studied as methods to examine gun violence trends and promote appropriate measures, such as quicker police response times8,9.
Further, digital health interventions are being considered as potential solutions to reduce the incidence and consequences of firearm-related violence. One study is investigating how digital non-emergency medical transportation services (DNEMT) like Uber Health can provide a safe way to travel to medical appointments and increase interaction between Black male gun violence survivors and hospital systems. By offering a secure method of transportation, DNEMT services aim to reduce barriers to healthcare access and prevent stressful interactions with rival gangs, traumatic triggers, and weapons on public transportation10. Other interventions are focusing on integrating social media and messaging-based programs to prevent firearm suicide and gun violence among individuals in at-risk communities11,12. At Brown University, Dr. Megan Ranney and her team are working on a study, Guardians 4 Health (G4H), to educate youth shooting sports participants about firearm safety, bystander intervention, and harm reduction strategies. By implementing a nationwide curriculum that integrates these concepts, G4H aims to change community norms about guns and promote safer behaviors13.
Throughout the past two decades, the frequency of gun violence and active shooter incidents in the United States has steadily increased14. Without an active effort to develop innovative and interdisciplinary solutions, this trend will continue to escalate, leading to the destruction of more lives, families, and communities. In June, a bipartisan gun violence deal was passed by the Senate that will lead to significant funding for mental and behavioral telehealth programs for at-risk youth and their communities15. As the influence of the digital age continues to grow, it is important that researchers and policymakers continue working together to create new, technology-based solutions and increase the accessibility and resources surrounding such programs.
- Iboshi, K. (2021, November 2). Is social media contributing to Portland's rise in gun violence? kgw.com. Retrieved from https://www.kgw.com/article/news/crime/gun-violence/social-media-portland-gun-violence/283-3ce3f8e5-57ee-4ae6-9c7c-3c96c1169234
- MacDonald, T. (2022, March 17). Social media could be adding to violent start to year in Philly. WHYY. Retrieved from https://whyy.org/articles/philly-police-say-social-media-catalyst-for-gun-violence-among-young-people/
- Meindl, J. N., & Ivy, J. W. (2017). Mass shootings: The role of the media in promoting generalized imitation. American journal of public health, 107(3), 368-370.
- Patton, D. U., McGregor, K., & Slutkin, G. (2018). Youth Gun Violence Prevention in a Digital Age. Pediatrics, 141(4), e20172438.
- Saha, K., & De Choudhury, M. (2017). Modeling stress with social media around incidents of gun violence on college campuses. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 1(CSCW), 1-27
- Ojo, A., Guntuku, S. C., Zheng, M., Beidas, R. S., & Ranney, M. L. (2021). How health care workers wield influence through Twitter hashtags: Retrospective cross-sectional study of the gun violence and COVID-19 public health crises. JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, 7(1), e24562.
- Edmund, M. (2022, March 29). Smart guns: Technology that can save lives. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/article/smart-guns-technology-that-can-save-lives/
- Doucette, M. L., Green, C., Necci Dineen, J., Shapiro, D., & Raissian, K. M. (2021). Impact of ShotSpotter Technology on Firearm Homicides and Arrests Among Large Metropolitan Counties: a Longitudinal Analysis, 1999-2016. Journal of urban health : bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 98(5), 609–621.
- How technology can help reduce gun violence. Flock Safety. (2021, July 29). Retrieved from https://www.flocksafety.com/articles/alpr-technology-gun-violence
- Richardson, J. B., Wical, W., Kottage, N., Galloway, N., & Bullock, C. (2021). Staying out of the way: Perceptions of digital non-emergency medical transportation services, barriers, and access to care among young Black male survivors of firearm violence. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 42(1), 43-58.
- Sichel, C. E., Javdani, S., Shaw, S., & Liggett, R. (2021). A role for social media? A community‐based response to guns, gangs, and violence online. Journal of community psychology, 49(3), 822-837.
- Pallin, R., Siry, B., Azrael, D., Knoepke, C. E., Matlock, D. D., Clement, A., ... & Betz, M. E. (2019). “Hey, let me hold your guns for a while”: A qualitative study of messaging for firearm suicide prevention. Behavioral sciences & the law, 37(3), 259-269.
- Garcia-Navarro, L. (2021, May 30). CDC Funds project researching gun violence. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2021/05/30/1001684739/cdc-funds-project-researching-gun-violence
- Gramlich, J. (2022, February 3). What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/02/03/what-the-data-says-about-gun-deaths-in-the-u-s/
- Muoio, D. (2022, June 13). Bipartisan gun violence deal supports 'major investments' for Behavioral Health, Telehealth programs. Fierce Healthcare. Retrieved from https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/providers/bipartisan-gun-violence-deal-supports-major-investments-behavioral-health-telehealth