Research by Aaron Kivisto garners international media attention

aaron_kivistoResearch by Aaron Kivisto, associate professor of clinical and forensic psychology, explored the link between gun ownership and greater incidences of domestic homicides. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and revealed for each 10% increase in household gun ownership rates, there is a 13% increase in domestic firearm homicide incidents.

“The narrative about gun ownership and personal protection tends to ignore the risks associated with firearm ownership, including the risks to others in the home. Gun owners should weigh up these perceived benefits and risks and engage in safe storage and other practices to reduce the risk of a domestic incident becoming fatal,” Kivisto told Newsweek.

Kivisto and his co-authors, which included UIndy alum Peter Phalen ’18 (Psy.D.), studied annual data on homicide rates in 50 states between 1990 and 2016, from the U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report.

As firearms deaths in the United States continue to rise, determining the causal factors that lead  to them is becoming even more important. One of those factors that is examined in this study is the number of households with firearms. While previous studies have examined this link in a 1:1 manner, Kivisto and his team discovered that the increase in gun ownership relates more closely to the rise in domestic homicides. As importantly, Kivisto found that the increased risk of firearm homicide attributable to firearm ownership isn’t equally shared across victims.

One of the conclusions reached by this research is that, because women are the victims in cases of domestic homicide at a disproportionate rate, they shoulder the burden of the risks of this increased gun ownership.

Kivisto noted that while men are the victims in 3 of 4 typical homicides, that flips entirely in the case of domestic homicides where women are the victim 3 in 4 times.

The findings should help guide future policy in the United States. “While some federal laws are in place that are aimed at reducing domestic firearm violence, not enough has been done to enforce them at the federal level. States that have enacted legislation to prohibit individuals at high risk of intimate partner violence from possessing firearms and requiring them to relinquish any they currently own, have a lower incidence of domestic firearm homicide,” said Kivisto.

The research, as well as an interview with Kivisto, was highlighted by the New York Times. Additional national and international coverage included Newsweek, WebMD, The Independent (UK), KUNC Radio, Scienmag and US News & World Report. Other outlets covering the story included MTV, Jezebel and Drugs.com.  

University of Indianapolis study finds increased risk of adolescent suicide associated with household firearm ownership

Aaron Kivisto, University of Indianapolis associate professor of clinical psychology

Aaron Kivisto, University of Indianapolis associate professor of clinical psychology

Study confirms safe storage provisions are associated with decreased adolescent firearm suicide

INDIANAPOLIS—New research from the University of Indianapolis shows that state-level gun ownership is strongly linked to rates of suicide among high school-aged adolescents, and gun ownership is linked more strongly to adolescent suicide than adult suicide. The research also determined that child access prevention laws, particularly those that require that gun locks to be included with all handgun sales, were associated with decreased rates of firearm suicide. 

The study, “Adolescent Suicide, Household Firearm Ownership, and the Effects of Child Access Prevention Laws,” was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Aaron Kivisto, associate professor of clinical psychology, was the lead author of the study. Co-authors include Katherine Kivisto, associate professor of clinical child psychology, Erica Gurnell ’22 (PsyD), Peter Phalen ’18 (PsyD) and Bradley Ray.

The study examined 37,652 suicides among high school-aged adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 years old between 1991 and 2017, and found that slightly more than half of these involved firearms. Researchers found that for each 10-percent-point increase in state gun ownership, rates of high school-age adolescent firearm suicide increased by 39 percent compared to 18 percent among adults. This association between firearm ownership and suicide was approximately two times stronger among adolescents relative to adults, a significant difference.

The research also determined that child access prevention laws requiring safe-storage practices, and particularly laws requiring that gun locks be included with all handgun sales, were associated with decreased rates of firearm suicide. While these laws were associated with decreased firearm suicide across the lifespan, they were associated with significantly larger reductions in suicide among high school-aged adolescents compared to adults. This suggests that laws promoting safe-storage practices are uniquely suited to preventing youth suicide.

“Our results show that the relative risk of suicide for adolescents conferred by firearms is approximately twice that observed among adults. Although these findings highlight the risks of household firearm ownership for youth living in the home, we find promise in the observation that child access prevention laws mandating handgun locks and safe storage appear to reduce this risk considerably. These data suggest that the expansion of requirements that firearm locks be provided with all handgun sales, not only those through federally licensed firearm dealers, might reduce the impact of youth firearm suicide,” Aaron Kivisto said. 

The results expand on Kivisto’s previous findings related to Indiana’s ‘red flag’ law, which found that risk-based firearm seizure laws provided one promising legislative strategy for reducing firearm suicide.

“In examining laws that would theoretically target suicide risk particularly among children and adolescents, these findings suggest that separate, targeted legislative solutions might be necessary for decreasing suicide risk among children, youth and adults,” Kivisto said.

About the University of Indianapolis
The University of Indianapolis, founded in 1902, is a private university located just a few minutes from downtown Indianapolis. The University is ranked among the top National Universities by U.S. News and World Report, with a diverse enrollment of nearly 5,600 undergraduate, graduate and continuing education students. The University offers a wide variety of study areas, including 100+ undergraduate degrees, more than 40 master’s degree programs and five doctoral programs. More occupational therapists, physical therapists and clinical psychologists graduate from the University each year than any other state institution. With strong programs in engineering, business, and education, the University of Indianapolis impacts its community by living its motto, “Education for Service.” Learn more: uindy.edu.

Research finds link between reduction in firearm suicides and “red flag” gun laws

INDIANAPOLIS – A new study by Aaron Kivisto, assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Indianapolis, provides evidence that risk-based gun seizure laws are saving lives. The study, “Effects of Risk-Based Firearm Seizure Laws in Connecticut and Indiana on Suicide Rates, 1981-2015,” appears in the June 2018 issue of Psychiatric Services. Peter Phalen ’18 (Psy.D. in clinical psychology) was co-author.

Risk-based firearm seizure laws – also known as “red flag,” risk warrant, gun violence restraining order, or extreme risk protection order laws – provide ways for law enforcement to seize guns from individuals considered to pose an imminent risk of serious harm to themselves or others. Nearly 23,000 Americans died in suicide incidents involving a firearm in 2016, the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study, which utilizes CDC data for the 50 states, covers a 34-year period and focuses on Connecticut and Indiana, respectively the first two states to enact risk-based gun seizure laws. Researchers compared the number of firearm-related suicides before and after risk-based firearm seizure laws were enacted.

The study finds a 7.5-percent decrease in firearm suicides in Indiana in the 10 years following enactment of the law relative to expected rates, an effect larger than that seen in any comparison state by chance alone. Enactment of Connecticut’s law was associated with a 1.6-percent reduction in firearm suicides immediately after its passage relative to expected rates, and a 13.7-percent reduction in the post-Virginia Tech period when there was a substantial increase in enforcement.

With more than 20 “red flag” gun bills pending in state legislatures across the country, Kivisto said risk-based gun seizure laws have emerged as a prominent policy option for reducing gun violence. In the wake of the Parkland mass shooting, Florida recently became the sixth state in the country to pass a “red flag” gun law, joining California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington.

“Policy makers working to reduce gun violence benefit from data in helping them weigh the balance between individual risks and rights,” Kivisto said. “Red flag” laws, which may vary from state to state, share several important commonalities, particularly in providing a way of removing guns from individuals who are considered dangerous and already own guns, according to Kivisto.

“All states include judicial oversight of all gun seizures made by law enforcement and provide due process protections,” Kivisto explained. “These laws aren’t designed to permanently prohibit individuals from owning guns, but rather to remove them, often for several months, until the individual is no longer in crisis and posing a risk to themselves or others,” he added.

Study finds living in a state with weak gun laws could increase risk of being shot by police

A new study from the University of Indianapolis published in the American Journal of Public Health finds that citizens living in states with the weakest gun laws are more than twice as likely to be fatally shot by law enforcement. 

Aaron Kivisto

Aaron Kivisto

Aaron Kivisto, assistant professor in the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences at the University of Indianapolis, conducted the research along with doctoral student Peter Phalen, in collaboration with Brad Ray, assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. The American Journal of Public Health published the study, “Firearm legislation and fatal police shootings in the United States,” on May 18, 2017.

Kivisto, lead author of the study, said the research utilized data on fatal police shootings in the United States from “The Counted,” a database developed by U.K.-based newspaper The Guardian. That data, compared with the state gun law rankings from the The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, showed citizens from states with weaker gun laws are significantly more likely to be killed by law enforcement, according to the study.

Researchers examined more than 2,000 fatal police shootings that occurred between January 2015 and October 2016. The study considered differences across states in rates of gun ownership, violent crime and other socio-demographic characteristics.

The study found that, while laws strengthening background checks appeared to support this effect by reducing the overall number of guns in the community, laws aimed at promoting safe storage and reducing gun trafficking helped to prevent guns already in the community from falling into the wrong hands.

“What’s really striking is that the laws that seem to be driving this effect – closing background check loopholes, requiring that parents protect their kids from finding their guns in the home – are the types of laws that large majorities of Americans support. These aren’t particularly controversial laws, and this study, along with many before it, suggests that they can save a lot of lives,” Kivisto said. “These findings also seem to highlight the challenges created for law enforcement by states that have neglected to enact common-sense gun laws supported by most citizens.”

The research group emphasized the need for a comprehensive system to track fatal police shootings nationwide.

“Currently, the only serious monitoring system for police violence in our country is the media itself, rather than the government or police,” Phalen said.

While policy efforts targeting police practices represent one strategy, these findings show strengthening state-level gun laws as a potential tool for reducing rates of fatal police shootings in the United States, Kivisto said.

*Kivisto, A.J., Ray, B., & Phalen, P. (2017). Firearm legislation and fatal police shootings in the United States. American Journal of Public Health. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303770