Violence—defined by the World Health Organization as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation”—is a significant public health problem that has profound impacts on lifelong health, opportunity, and well-being. Violence affects people of all ages and backgrounds, though some populations are at disproportionate risk. Violent victimization events are associated with not only physical injury or mortality, but also a range of acute and chronic physical and behavioral health conditions. When firearms are involved with violent events, the risk for injury, mortality, and acute and chronic physical, mental, or behavioral health conditions increases. There is evidence that indirect (witnessing) exposures to violence also have adverse effects on behavioral and physical health that are similar to the effects of direct exposures.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) supports scientific research to increase our understanding of public health interventions to prevent different forms of violence and the trauma, injuries, and mortality resulting from them. Given that violence research cuts across many NIH institutes and centers and the central role of behavioral and social science research in violence related research, the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) has increasingly played a coordinating role for this research at NIH. These efforts build off and complement existing NIH Institute, Center, and Office (ICO) priorities and of effective initiatives focused on specific types of violence such as child or elder maltreatment, youth violence, bullying, community violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence.
The FY2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, FY21 Consolidated Appropriations Act, FY22 Consolidated Appropriations Act, and FY23 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided $12.5 million dollars of funding for each of the past 4 years to NIH to conduct research on firearm injury and mortality prevention by taking a comprehensive approach to studying the underlying causes and evidence-based methods of prevention of firearm injury, including crime prevention. Congressional language noted that the research must be ideologically and politically unbiased, that no funds could be used to advocate or promote gun control, and that grantees were required to fulfill NIH requirements around open data, open code, pre-registration of research projects, and open access to research articles.
Firearms Focused Notices of Funding Opportunities (NOFO)
FY2020 and FY2021
OBSSR, along with IC partners, developed Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFOs) PAR-20-143, NOT-OD-20-089, PAR-21-191 and PAR-21-192, that were intended to build upon the existing NIH research portfolio and address emerging opportunities. The NOFOs took a broad public health approach to firearm injury and mortality prevention, encouraging research on interventions delivered in healthcare and community settings, integration of individual, family, interpersonal, community, and structural or system (e.g., legal, child welfare) approaches and included focusing on both victimization and perpetration of firearm violence across the life course and across populations.
OBSSR worked with other ICs to coordinate two NOFOs, PAR 22-115 and PAR 22-120, that solicited applications for a coordinating center and a network of research projects to develop and test community/organization level interventions to prevent firearm and related violence, injury and mortality. The goal of the network is to support research projects to develop, implement, and evaluate innovative interventions that seek to modify characteristics of organizations, environments and/or settings to target higher order, “root” causes of firearm mortality and injury. The Coordinating Center will provide cross-network coordination, communication, analytics, engagement, and dissemination efforts to enhance the impact and generalizability of the study findings.
OBSSR coordinated with other ICOs to publish a NOFO (PAR-23-066) that was a re-issue of PAR-22-115 to add additional network sites. In addition, NIH published two NOFOs (PAR-23-107 and PAR-23-108) focused on advanced training and career development for established NIH investigators in related fields to obtain the necessary skills and expertise to integrate firearm injury prevention work into their research. These awards will be a critical first step into expanding the field of qualified researchers and building capacity for the future.
Meet the Community Firearm Violence Prevention Network
The Community Firearm Violence Prevention Network (CFVP) was seeded in September 2022 with three sites and a coordinating center at the University of Michigan. Three additional sites were added in September 2023. To meet the network and learn more about its projects, people, and activities, please click here.
NIH-Wide Firearms Mortality Prevention NOFO:
On December 16, 2022, OBSSR and NIH ICOs (National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), The Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO), Office of Disease Prevention (ODP) and Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH)) released a Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Firearm Injury and Mortality Prevention Research (NOT-OD-23-039). The purpose of this Notice is to highlight interest in research to improve understanding of the determinants of firearm injury, the identification of those at risk of firearm injury (including self- and other-directed, victims and perpetrators, accidental injury), the development, piloting, and testing of innovative interventions to prevent firearm injury and mortality, and the examination of approaches to improve the implementation of existing, evidence-based interventions to prevent firearm injury and mortality. This Notice will expire on February 5, 2026.
NIH-wide Violence Research Work Group
In 2019, OBSSR initiated a NIH-wide Violence Research Work Group (co-chaired by OBSSR and NICHD) and convened representatives from relevant ICs at NIH. This Work Group (WG) is tasked with examining the current violence research portfolio across NIH, identifying gaps and opportunities for current and future research priorities, and leading initiatives when appropriate.
For more information about the efforts of this working group and NIH supported violence research, please see the published article in Translational Behavioral Medicine titled Published article in Translational Behavioral Medicine titled “Emerging research areas and contributions of NIH in violence research across the lifespan and throughout different settings,” coauthored by NIH’s Drs. Caitlin E. Burgdorf, Valerie Maholmes, Stephen O’Connor, and Dara R. Blachman-Demner.
Advancing the Science of Mechanisms of Aggression
Led by a subgroup of the violence research working group, OBSSR and partner ICOs issued a Request for Information (RFI; NOT-OD-22-041) to solicit input from the community on research challenges and needs in the biobehavioral mechanisms of aggression; received 27 responses between December 14, 2021, and March 1, 2022. A summary of responses can be found here. In response to identified needs, a workshop "Advancing the Science of Aggression Across Species and Disciplines" was held to bring together researchers to identify gaps and opportunities to move the field forward. Key highlights and action items from the workshop can be found here.
On July 8, 2022, OBSSR and NIH ICOs (National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institute Of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO), Office of Disease Prevention (ODP) and Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH)) released a Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Research on Addressing Violence to Improve Health Outcomes (NOT-OD-22-167). The purpose of this Notice is to highlight interest in addressing the role of violence in health outcomes and integrating violence-related screening and interventions into health care settings. This Notice is to encourage intervention research focused on addressing exposure to violence - including but not limited to child maltreatment, intimate partner violence/teen dating violence, elder mistreatment, peer violence/bullying, and community violence – to improve individual-level health processes and outcomes. This Notice will expire on October 5, 2025.
OBSSR also engages the research community and the public through outreach activities. OBSSR-hosted upcoming and past violence research initiatives-focused events are listed below.
Understanding and Addressing the Health Impacts of Online Abuse and Harassment Workshop (Virtual)
Save-the-dates: Thursday, December 7 and Friday, December 8, 2023
Registration information for the Understanding and Addressing the Health Impacts of Online Abuse and Harassment Workshop will be available soon.
As part of the White House Task Force to Address Online Abuse Harassment, OBSSR, NICHD, and other NIH ICOs are convening a two-day virtual scientific workshop to identify gaps and challenges in advancing the research agenda to understand and address online harassment and abuse. The workshop will include a mix of plenary talks, panel discussions, and potential breakout sessions. Register: link forthcoming
- OBSSR Workshop: Advancing the Science of Aggression Across Species and Disciplines
- Plenary Speakers:
- Dayu Lin, Ph.D., NYU Grossman School of Medicine
- Terrie E. Moffitt, Ph.D., Duke University, King’s College London
- Plenary Speakers:
- OBSSR Director’s Webinar: May 16, 2023: Violence as a public health problem: What we know, and where we are going
- Speaker: Megan L. Ranney, M.D., Ph.D., Incoming Dean, Yale School of Public Health (July 2023)
- OBSSR’s Director’s Webinar: March 23, 2021: Behavioral Health and Injury Prevention: The Emergency Department as a Window to Community and Population Health
- Speaker: Rebecca Cunningham, Ph.D., Professor of Emergency Medicine, Director of the Injury Prevention Center, University of Michigan
OBSSR and the violence research working group also serve as a hub for support of IC-led violence related initiatives. Upcoming and past events led by other ICOs relevant to violence research are listed below.
Future Directions in Violence Against Women Research
Request for Information (RFI; NOT-NR-23-008)
- Summary Report forthcoming
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Grantee Meeting
The Sexual and Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO) Workshop
SGMRO conducted a multi-phased workshop on violence & related health outcomes in SGM communities. This timeline included a Request for Information, a state of the science workshop, virtual working groups, and a final public report out session in August 2021.
Active Funding Opportunities
- NIMH: NOT-MH-22-095: NIMH Priorities on Research on Aggression and Violence Against Others. Expires January 8, 2025.
- NIMHD: RFA-MD-24-002: Youth Violence Prevention Interventions (R01-Clinical Trial Required). Expires October 3, 2023.
- NINR: RFA-NR-24-001: Firearm Injury Prevention in Community Healthcare Settings (R01 Clinical Trial Optional). Expires July 27, 2024.
OBSSR, along with ICO partners, are engaged in several White House and Federal Partner efforts to address all forms of violence. NIH participation in such efforts ensures that lessons learned from NIH grantees are integrated into ongoing efforts. Recent examples are provided below.
White House Community Violence Intervention (CVI) Collaborative
An 18-month effort (from June 2021-December 2022) involving a cohort of 16 jurisdictions committed to using public funding to scale and strengthen their CVI structure. Investing in community violence interventions to combat the gun violence epidemic is a key part of the administration’s comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to gun violence. The CFVP network described above aligns well with CVI efforts as it is focused on community level interventions to prevent firearm injury and mortality. In addition, a number of NIH funded grants are working in similar areas.
OBSSR also worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and other federal colleagues, to coordinate a webinar series to provide subject matter expertise to communities implementing these efforts. Sessions are recorded and uploaded to the Community Violence Intervention page on the Bureau of Justice’s (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center website.
White House Task Force on Online Harassment and Abuse
The White House Task to Address Online Harassment and Abuse was established via Presidential Memorandum on June 16, 2022 to address online harassment and abuse, specifically technology-facilitated gender-based violence. In consultation with survivors, advocates, educators, experts from diverse fields, and the private sector, the Task Force will develop specific recommendations to improve prevention, response, and protection efforts through programs and policies in the United States and globally. As part of this effort, NIH will host a scientific workshop to identify gaps, opportunities, and challenges in advancing a research agenda to better understand the clinical, health, and developmental impacts of online harassment and abuse and develop innovative prevention and intervention efforts.
Registration information for the Understanding and Addressing the Health Impacts of Online Abuse and Harassment Workshop will be available soon.
National Action Plan to Prevent Gender Based Violence
NIH staff were instrumental in contributing to the development of the plan and are serving on the implementation team. Learn more.
Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) Executive Order
NIH staff contributed to the writing of this report and NIH-funded research was cited in several places.
Executive Order on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety: A Report on a Review of the Community Impacts of Use of Force and Certain Other Police Activities on Physical, Mental and Public Health. Learn more.
Findings from recently published behavioral and social sciences research are highlighted each month in the Research Spotlights Blog. NIH-funded violence research initiatives that have been featured in the blog:
- Some young adult males living in certain major U.S. cities face a higher risk of firearm death than military deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan
- Homicide is a leading cause of maternal mortality in the U.S.
- Reported domestic violence crimes decreased in Chicago during the 2020 COVID-19 stay-at-home order but may not reflect true levels of violence
- Mental illness may not be a factor in most mass shootings
- Violence exposure in childhood impacts brain network connectivity into adolescence
- Evaluating the risk of school violence using natural language processing and machine learning
- To access NIH spending amounts and specific awards, view the Research, Condition, and Disease Categories (RCDC) “Firearms Research” and “Violence Research” on NIH RePORTER. The Firearms RCDC is only for FY2020 and beyond.
- OBSSR fact sheets:
- OBSSR news/announcements posts:
- NIH Awards Grants for Firearm Injury and Mortality Prevention Research (2020)
- NIH awards 10 grants addressing firearm violence prevention (2021)
- NIH Research to Prevent Firearm Injury and Mortality (2022)
- NIH Awards Additional Research and Training Grants to Support Firearm Injury and Mortality Prevention Science (2023)
- CDC Violence Prevention
- Schoolsafety.gov Safe Storage Fact Sheet