APA's recent and ongoing activities related to gun violence prevention

APA's government relations staff continues to advocate for needed federal legislation, including reauthorization of relevant laws, as well as enactment of new legislation — some of which implement key provisions of the president's plan to reduce gun violence.

In response to the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., APA has redoubled its efforts related to gun violence prevention. APA-wide initiatives have involved communications with the White House, Congress, other organizations, the APA membership and the general public in support of vital mental and behavioral health services, training and research. In so doing, APA has exercised caution to avoid adding to the stigma associated with mental health problems, by clarifying that mental disorders are not the cause of violent behavior.

APA’s government relations staff continues to advocate for needed federal legislation, including reauthorization of relevant laws, as well as enactment of new legislation — some of which implements key provisions of the president’s plan to reduce gun violence. Of most interest to APA are legislative initiatives that focus on mental and behavioral health, violence, threat assessment and media and gun violence. Some of these topics have already been the focus of legislation and reports reviewed by APA staff, as well as congressional hearings and briefings, which APA staff has attended. APA is also in the process of establishing two new task forces to examine the psychological literature related to gun and media violence to determine whether the association’s policies in these areas need to be updated to reflect the most current research.

This document offers an overview of APA’s recent and ongoing activities related to gun violence prevention in the following areas: Executive Branch, Congress, Collaboration with other Organizations, APA Policy-Related Initiatives and Outreach to the APA Membership and General Public:

Executive Branch

APA’s CEO Norman Anderson, PhD, attended an invitational White House meeting on Jan. 9, 2013, on gun violence prevention with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Attorney General, along with about 20 mental health organizations. APA developed and submitted a list of recommendations to the White House prior to the meeting, which reflected the input of many of our member experts.

  • An APA press statement was released on Jan. 17, 2013, which lauded the president’s gun violence prevention plan (PDF, 193KB) and highlighted components of most interest to APA. 

  • APA is monitoring implementation of the president’s executive orders (PDF, 128KB) in such areas as gun safety, background checks, gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and therapist duty to warn provisions. 

  • As part of a coalition spearheaded by the American Academy of Pediatrics, APA attended a Feb. 4, 2013, White House meeting with staff from the vice president’s office, the Office of Public Engagement, and the Domestic Policy Council to discuss gun violence prevention issues, including the role of health providers, CDC funding for gun violence research and school and gun safety. 

  • APA attended an invitational event at the White House on Feb. 27th focused on the implementation of the president’s executive order to create model emergency management plans for schools, institutions of higher education and houses of worship, and to provide best practices for training students and staff to follow these plans. Convened by the Departments of Homeland Security, Education, Justice and HHS, this event brought together stakeholders from education, mental health, law enforcement, emergency management, victims of gun violence and the faith community. 

  • APA was invited by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to partner in their National Dialogue on Mental Health. This joint federal effort is being launched in March by the Secretaries of HHS and Education. It is designed to increase awareness of mental health issues, to promote mental and emotional health, and to identify local strategies to reduce stigma and increase access to needed mental health treatment. 

  • APA is striving to enhance access to mental health services in Medicaid and gain recognition of psychologists in this federal-state program, as well as to ensure adequate mental health benefits in the soon-to-be-created state health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Congress

Goal: To advocate for increased funding for well established, evidence-based mental and behavioral health initiatives in services, research and training.

Service Priorities
  • Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with its focus on school-based mental health services, positive school climate and safety.

  • Reauthorizing the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which provides mental health and substance use services on college campuses, offers youth suicide prevention grants to states and tribes, and supports a suicide prevention resource center.

Training Priorities 
  • Increasing funding for the Graduate Psychology Education Program of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which supports psychology doctoral, internship and postdoctoral programs to provide interprofessional training to address the mental and behavioral health needs of youth and other identified underserved populations. 

  • Securing funding for the president’s proposal to provide $50 million to train 5,000 additional mental health professionals to serve students and young adults, which could be directed to HRSA’s Mental and Behavioral Health Education and Training Grant Program

Research Priorities 
  • Increasing funding for mental and behavioral health research at the National Institutes of Health, CDC and other key federal agencies. 

  • Renewing social and behavioral science research support to examine the causes and prevention of gun violence, such as evidenced by the recent grant announcement by the National Institute of Justice (PDF, 151KB), after over a 15-year hiatus.

Recent Activities 

  • Participated by invitation to brief staff of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, along with several other mental health organizations, on mental health legislation within the committee’s jurisdiction. APA’s wide-ranging guidance covered bills addressing school and campus mental health services, psychology workforce, child trauma, violence against women and mental health and aging, among other issues. 

  • Continue to work closely with congressional offices by contributing to the drafting of legislative language, recommending APA members as presenters for congressional hearings and briefings (and attending such events), tracking legislation and responding to requests for assistance.

Collaboration with Other Organizations 

  • Nominated APA members to serve on an Institute of Medicine committee to develop a consensus report for a public health-oriented research agenda for gun violence prevention for potential implementation by CDC over the next five years. APA’s nominees offer expertise in the following five priority areas: injury prevention, violence epidemiology, criminology/law, suicide epidemiology and prevention, and mental health/psychology.

  • Attended an invitational meeting hosted by the Police Foundation on Jan. 14th with representatives from about 35 federal agencies and organizations to provide guidance to chiefs of police regarding mental health issues related to gun violence. 

  • Agreed to partner with the Association of American Medical Colleges to compile materials on mental health services and research on violence prevention for their MedEdPORTAL’s iCollaborative, upon the request of the vice president’s office to participate in the National Dialogue on Mental Health. This centralized repository is for sharing informational materials and educational tools among health professionals to advance learning in critical areas. 

  • Invited by the YMCA in February to collaborate in responding to a request from the vice president’s office to prepare materials for campers and their parents about violence prevention. Informational resources will also be developed for camp staff and other partners for this summer’s camp season. 

  • Joined a Gun Violence Prevention Stakeholders Group formed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to enable government relations staff from diverse organizations to coordinate their gun violence prevention activities. The 25 or so members represent health providers, public health officials, preventive medicine and early child development experts, and gun safety advocates, among others. 

  • Collaborating with the Mental Health Liaison Group in advocating for mental health initiatives in Congress.

APA Policy-Related Initiatives (Approved and Pending) 

  • Convening an APA task force to report on research and policy recommendations regarding violence in video games and related interactive media and to re-evaluate two prior APA Council resolutions from 1995 and 2005 related to media violence.

  • Formed an expert panel charged with writing an empirically-based report on the prediction and prevention of gun violence. This report is intended for policymakers and the news media to convey what is known about the antecedents of gun violence and successful prevention strategies, as well as what further research is needed. In addition to serving as an important and timely public information document, the report is expected to help inform the work of a subsequent APA task force to examine — and possibly revise or replace — the 1994 APA Council Resolution on Firearm Safety and Youth.

Outreach to the APA Membership and General Public 

  • APA’s CEO briefed the APA Council of Representatives at its February meeting on the association’s recent and ongoing activities related to gun violence prevention, with a focus on Congress, the Executive Branch, collaboration with other organizations and APA’s ongoing re-examination of its relevant policies. 

  • Sent two informational email broadcasts to the membership about APA’s gun violence prevention activities with subsequent announcements in APA Access

  • Received about 30 offers of assistance from APA member experts whose research-based information was incorporated into the APA recommendations to the White House. Also received statements and offers of assistance from four of APA’s divisions, as well as from APA’s Task Force on Serious Mental Illness/Serious Emotional Disturbance. 

  • Provided guidance through PracticeUpdate of the APA Practice Organization to psychologists about state duty to warn laws, federal and state laws governing purchase of firearms and the Affordable Care Act provision that allows asking clients about access to firearms. Also prepared an article for the Psychological Science Agenda on the history of federal funding for gun violence research, highlighting the freeze since 1996. 

  • Offered resources through APA’s Psychology Help Center to assist the public in coping with distress in the aftermath of a shooting.

  • Responded to requests from news media for psychologists able to speak to the many issues surrounding gun violence. Between mid-December and the end of January, APA provided psychology experts for interviews for more than 100 print, radio, and broadcast pieces about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and its aftermath. 

  • APA, as an association of psychologist practitioners, researchers and educators with expertise in human behavior, has much to contribute to the national dialogue to prevent gun violence. We look forward to continued engagement with the federal government and our organizational partners to achieve this goal with the utmost urgency

Additional APA efforts on this important national issue can be found by searching for "gun violence" on our website.