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Gun Violence Research

Faculty from the Department of Medicine, Health, and Society actively conduct research in the area of gun violence, examining the causes, implications, and policies surrounding this sensitive and complicated subject. Areas of research related to guns and gun violence include:

  • Children and pediatric issues
  • Mental illness
  • Mass shootings
  • Substance abuse
  • Policies and law

MHS faculty are also closely involved with the Vanderbilt Center for Research on Inequality and Health, contributing valuable research related to gun violence prevention.

Gun Research Core

A core group of faculty in the Department of Medicine, Health, and Society who regularly conduct a wide variety of research related to gun violence make up our Gun Research Core.

Panka Bencsik

Panka Bencsik, assistant professor of medicine, health, and society, is an applied microeconomist. Her research investigates the intersection of health and the US criminal justice system, with a focus on the impacts of the opioid crisis, physical health related to nutritional choices, and the causes and consequences of gun violence. Her work combines causal inference with addressing policy-relevant research questions and working with public agencies in testing solutions to large public health challenges.


Recent research:

  • Ang, D., Bencsik, P., Bruhn, J., & Derenoncourt, E. (2021). Police violence reduces civilian cooperation and engagement with law enforcement. Brown University, Orlando Bravo Center for Economic Research No. 2021-005.
  • Arora, A., Bencsik, P. (2021). Policing Substance Use: Chicago’s Treatment Program for Narcotics Arrests. Working Paper.

Kirsty Clark

Kirsty Clark (she/her/hers), assistant professor of medicine, health, and society, is a social and psychiatric epidemiologist. Her research broadly focuses on investigating modifiable risk factors to severe, adverse mental health outcomes – including suicide – disproportionately affecting LGBTQ+ populations. She is interested in access to, use of, and motivations for lethal method choice among LGBTQ+ populations at risk for suicide. The overarching goal of Dr. Clark’s program of research is to inform structural, interpersonal, and individual-level interventions to reduce suicide among LGBTQ+ populations.

Recent research:

  • Clark, K. A., & Blosnich, J. R. (2022). If I Had Access to a Gun, I Think I Would Have Used it Instead”: Motivations for Method Choice Among Sexual and Gender Minority Adults Who Made a Recent Near-Fatal Suicide Attempt, LGBT health9(4), 276-281.
  • Clark, K. A., Blosnich, J. R., Coulter, R. W., Bamwine, P., Bossarte, R. M., & Cochran, S. D. (2020). Sexual orientation differences in gun ownership and beliefs about gun safety policy, General Social Survey 2010–2016. Violence and gender7(1), 6-10.
  • Blosnich, J. R., Clark, K. A., Mays, V. M., & Cochran, S. D. (2020). Sexual and gender minority status and firearms in the household: findings from the 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Surveys, California and Texas. Public Health Reports135(6), 778-784.
  • Clark, K. A., Mays, V. M., Arah, O. A., Kheifets, L. I., & Cochran, S. D. (2020). Sexual orientation differences in lethal methods used in suicide: findings from the National Violent Death Reporting System. Archives of suicide research, 1-17.

Kenneth MacLeish

Kenneth MacLeish (he/him/his), Associate Professor of Medicine, Health & Society, is a cultural anthropologist who studies the intersection of war and the US military with mental health, disability, and ideas about violence in American society. His firearm research examines how the “riskiness” of veteran gun access is perceived by veteran care providers, veteran involvement in the criminal-legal system, and how veteran status emerges as an explanatory factor in media narratives about suicide and mass shootings.


Recent research:

  • MacLeish, Kenneth. 2019. Damaged and Deserving: On Care in a Veteran Treatment Court. Medical Anthropology.
  • MacLeish, Kenneth. 2017. Risk, Exposure, and Military Life. Forum on Health and National Security: Family Safety and Military Servicemembers Proceedings. Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress and Uniformed Services University.
  • Metzl, Jonathan, and Kenneth MacLeish. 2014. Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms. American Journal of Public Health.

Tara McKay

Tara McKay, assistant professor of medicine, health, and society, is a sociologist who studies the social and policy determinants of health. Her firearm research examines the effects of firearm-related and other policy contexts on firearm injury and death among adults and children in the US.



Recent research:

  • McKay, Tara, *Kelsey Gastineau, Jesse Wren, Jin Han, and Alan Storrow. 2022. Trends in Pediatric Firearm-Related Encounters, 2018-2021. Draft and talk available.
  • Metzl, Jonathan, Tara McKay, and *Jennifer Piemonte. 2021. Structural Competency and Firearm Research. Social Science and Medicine.
  • Metzl, Jonathan, *Jennifer Piemonte, and Tara McKay. 2021. Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and The Future of Psychiatric Research into American Gun Violence. Harvard Review of Psychiatry.
  • McKay, Tara, Jonathan Metzl, and *Jennifer Piemonte. 2020. Effects of Statewide Coronavirus Public Health Measures and State Gun Laws on American Gun Violence. SSRN Working Paper No. 3680050.

Jonathan M. Metzl

Jonathan M. Metzl MD, PhD, is the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry, and the director of the Department of Medicine, Health, and Society, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He received his MD from the University of Missouri, MA in humanities/poetics and psychiatric internship/residency from Stanford University, and PhD in American culture from University of Michigan. Winner of the 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Book Award, the 2020 APA Benjamin Rush Award for Scholarship, and a 2010 Guggenheim fellowship, Dr. Metzl has written extensively about the relationships between guns, mass shootings, and mental illness. His books include The Protest PsychosisProzac on the CouchAgainst Health: How Health Became the New MoralityDying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, and What We’ve Become: Living and Dying in a Country of Arms

Recent research:

  • Metzl JM, McKay T, Piemonte JL. 2021. Structural Competency and the future of firearm research. Social Science & Medicine.
  • Metzl JM, Piemonte J, McKay T. 2021. Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Future of Psychiatric Research into American Gun Violence. Harvard Review of Psychiatry.
  • Metzl JM. 2018. Repeal the Dickey Amendment to Address Polarization Surrounding Firearms in the United States. American Journal of Public Health.
  • Metzl JM, MacLeish KT. 2015. Mental illness, mass shootings, and the politics of American firearms. American Journal of Public Health.

Julie Ward

Julie A. Ward, is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, Health, and Society with a secondary appointment in public policy studies. She is also a Board Certified Advanced Public Health Nurse.

Ward’s research focuses on opportunities and strategies to improve public health and safety systems for the prevention of violence and violence-related trauma in community spaces. Her recent studies have explored public health leaders’ experiences of pandemic-related workplace violence, public support for firearm policies, perceptions of firearm-related public safety, views of minoritized gun owners, and fatal and nonfatal shootings by police.

Ward completed her Ph.D. in health and public policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in affiliation with the Center for Gun Violence Solutions. She also holds a master of nursing in community health systems and occupational and environmental health from the University of Washington, a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Washington, and a bachelor of arts in Spanish from the University of Oregon Clark Honors College.

Prior to joining Vanderbilt, Ward was assistant professor of clinical nursing at Oregon Health & Science University, where she taught concepts of population health, health equity, epidemiology, and health promotion over the life-course. Her research and teaching are informed by more than a decade of experience in clinical and community-based nursing roles in emergency services, occupational health and wellness, injury prevention, and program design and management.

Recent research: