APA Initiatives to Prevent Gun Violence

In response to the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, APA has redoubled its efforts related to gun violence prevention. APA-wide initiatives to prevent gun violence have involved communications with the White House, executive agencies, Congress, other organizations, APA members, the news media and the general public in support of vital mental and behavioral health services, training and research. One key goal of these initiatives is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems by clarifying that mental disorders are not the root cause of violent behavior.

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.

Updated June 9, 2014
The White House

The White House

Jan. 9, 2013

APA’s CEO Norman Anderson, PhD, attended an invitational White House meeting on gun violence prevention with the secretary of health and human services 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.

Jan. 17, 2013

APA released a press statement applauding the president’s gun violence prevention plan (PDF, 192KB) and highlighting components of most interest to APA.

APA is monitoring implementation of the president’s executive orders (PDF, 127KB) 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.

Feb. 4, 2013

As part of a coalition spearheaded by the American Academy of Pediatrics, APA staff participated in a 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.

Feb. 27, 2013

APA staff attended an invitational event at the White House 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 health and human services, this event brought together stakeholders from education, mental health, law enforcement, emergency management, victims of gun violence and faith-based communities.

June 18, 2013

APA was represented by two senior staff at a White House event with Vice President Biden which released the new model emergency management plans for schools, institutions of higher education and religious institutions.

The National Dialogue on Mental Health

The National Dialogue on Mental Health 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. Efforts to implement this joint public-private partnership were initially begun in February by the president, vice president and secretaries of education and health and human services. APA was invited by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to be a partner in supporting and promoting the National Dialogue. APA then accepted invitations from a number of organizations to carry out the following initiatives, as requested by the vice president’s office:

February 2013
  • Collaborate with the YMCA of the USA to prepare educational tools and resources for 18,000 full time Y staff and 49,000 summer employees to be able to identify signs of depression and other mental health problems in youth and refer to appropriate resources. The initiative June 27 with a webinar for Y staff and camp counselors, “How to Tell When a Kid is Struggling Emotionally.”
March 2013
  • Partner with the Association of American Medical Colleges on their MedEdPORTAL’s iCollaborative to call on our members to submit educational materials aimed at preparing health professionals to better understand the prevention, assessment and treatment of mental and behavioral health and substance use disorders. This centralized repository is for freely sharing informational materials and educational tools among health professionals to advance learning in critical areas.
  • Consider other opportunities for independent participation in the National Dialogue during a March 18 conversation initiated by the Office of the Vice President with APA’s CEO and two senior staff members in recognition of APA’s significant and ongoing involvement.
April 2013
  • Collaborate with the American Council on Education and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education to produce a report that will review current trends in student mental health and highlight promising practices that contribute to student well-being. In so doing, they will reach out to other key stakeholders for input, including the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. The publication, which is to be disseminated widely to post-secondary institutions and campus mental health providers, will highlight best practices and include the Campus Teams Resource developed by the Higher Education Mental Health Alliance, “Balancing Safety and Support on Campus: A Guide for Campus Teams.”
May 2013
  • Team up with Microsoft and “Skype in the Classroom” to produce a series of presentations for classroom use featuring APA members speaking about mental health issues like depression, anxiety, anger and resilience. The goal of the program is to bring mental health information to school-age children and help destigmatize mental health issues. The program is expected to launch in late fall 2013.
June 3, 2013
  • APA President Donald Bersoff, PhD, JD, and CEO Norman Anderson, PhD, represented APA at the White House Mental Health Conference designed to officially launch the National Dialogue on Mental Health. Anderson was invited to participate on the opening panel and offered guidance to health care professionals by stressing the importance of including psychologists on integrated health care teams. He was approached afterward by a number of association leaders interested in opportunities for collaboration. APA, through its ongoing media and public outreach activities, helped publicize the event to expand its reach and note psychology’s participation.
Executive Agencies

Executive Agencies

Feb. 22, 2013

Nominated four APA members to serve on an Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Priorities for a Public Health Research Agenda to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence. The public health agenda is for CDC to improve knowledge of the causes of gun violence, the interventions that prevent gun violence, and strategies to minimize the public health burden of gun violence. APA’s nominees offered expertise in the following five priority areas: injury prevention; violence epidemiology; criminology/law; suicide epidemiology and prevention; and mental health/psychology. Out of over 200 nominees across disciplines, APA member Alan Leshner, PhD, (CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) was selected to chair the panel, which also included psychologist Susan Sorenson, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania (who also serves on APA’s expert panel charged with writing an empirically based report on the prediction and prevention of gun violence).

April 2013

Distributed an announcement to APA violence prevention experts and key APA divisions and committees regarding an opportunity to submit materials to the IOM committee in advance of their first public workshop on April 23. APA President-elect Nadine Kaslow, PhD, five additional psychologists and an APA staff member were invited to participate as panelists. They discussed topics ranging from characteristics of gun violence, ongoing non-gun-related violence and prevention research, and violent media. The final report, which is entitled, "Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence," was released in June.

June 7, 2013

Submitted an APA comment letter in response to the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) as it relates to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). APA commended OCR’s commitment to mental health privacy and public safety, while expressing some concerns about and ways to minimize the possible adverse impact of the proposed rule on persons seeking mental health treatment (e.g., only reporting involuntary commitments to NICS where there has been due process and not requiring mental health professionals to report to NICS).

Continue efforts focused on the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to enhance access to mental health care in Medicaid and gain recognition of psychologists in this federal-state insurance program, as well as to ensure adequate mental health benefits in the soon-to-be-created state health exchanges (now referred to as the “health insurance marketplace”) under the Affordable Care Act.


APA’s government relations staff continues to advocate for federal legislation — both the enactment of new laws and the reauthorization of relevant laws — which would help to implement key provisions of the President’s plan to reduce gun violence. They are reviewing legislative initiatives and reports that focus on mental and behavioral health, violence, threat assessment, and media and gun violence, as well as congressional hearings and briefings.


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

Service Priorities include:
  • 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.
  • Reauthorizing the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative — which provides national infrastructure and support for the prevention, treatment and recovery from traumatic stress experiences — supporting children, families and providers.
Training Priorities include:
  • 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.
Research Priorities include:
  • Increasing funding for mental and behavioral health research at the National Institutes of Health, CDC and other key federal agencies.

APA Government Relations Activities

May 2014
  • Sent a letter commending Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., for his introduction of the Promoting Healthy Minds for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 4783). This legislation seeks to improve the law enforcement and mental health system response to violent incidents and to affirm the authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to carry out gun violence prevention research.
  • Delivered remarks at a press conference to introduce federal legislation to fund gun violence prevention research. The bill, drafted by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., seeks an additional $10 million each year for six years CDC to investigate gun violence prevention and firearm safety. APA associate executive director for the Public Interest Directorate, Clinton Anderson, PhD, touched on the resolution recently adopted by APA and authored by its Policy Review Task Force on the Prediction and Prevention of Gun Violence and potential psychologically-minded public health solutions for the nation’s gun violence crisis. Additionally, Anderson described the misconceptions about the role of mental illness in gun violence, as well as conveyed important research-based factors, notably the predisposing experience of emotional crises (e.g., intoxication, despair, rage, etc.). Maloney expressed her intent to enter APA’s remarks into the Congressional Record.
  • Sent a letter commending Reps. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., Diana DeGette, D-Colo., Doris Matsui, D-Calif., Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., for their efforts to improve the mental health system through the introduction of the Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act of 2014 (H.R. 4574). This legislation seeks to strengthen resources for prevention, early intervention and mental health treatment, and includes provisions that APA had previously supported.
  • Provided report language for the Senate Committee on Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee for FY2015 that included increased funding for the National Injury Prevention and Control Center, including the $10 million for gun violence prevention research.
April 2014
  • Lobbied Congress as part of the CDC Coalition to advocate for APA’s priorities in support of the president’s request for increased funding for the National Injury Prevention and Control Center in FY 2015. Specifically, APA lobbied for $10 million for gun violence prevention research to allow the CDC to carry out the critical research agenda developed in 2013 by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, and for $23.57 million (approximately twice the president’s request) for the National Violent Death Reporting System, to allow for expansion of the program to all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Represented by staff of APA’s Public Interest Government Relations Office and Violence Prevention Office on an advisory panel for Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE), a national CDC-led initiative. STRYVE takes a public health approach to preventing youth violence by fostering community partnerships and through the development of a comprehensive strategic plan.
  • Signed onto a coalition letter to gain co-sponsors for the Youth PROMISE Act (S. 1307). This legislation seeks to create funding for community planning, implementation and evaluation of evidence-based and promising practices that prevent and intervene in youth violence and delinquency.
March 2014
  • Secured the testimony of Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, as a witness at a hearing, which was held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, “Where have all the patients gone? Examining the psychiatric bed shortage.” Evans, who currently serves as Philadelphia’s commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and disAbility Services, testified about the need to move away from a crisis-driven mental health system to one that focuses on public health, prevention and early intervention. The hearing was organized by member of Congress and practicing psychologist, Rep. Tim Murphy, PhD. APA’s Public Interest Directorate posted a full write-up about Evans' testimony at Psychology Benefits Society.
January 2014
  • Issued an action alert via the APA Federal Action Network asking psychology advocates to encourage their congressional delegation to co-sponsor legislation authorizing the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2013 (S.116/H.R. 2734). This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would reauthorize and modify a research, training and technical assistance resource center to prevent suicides (the Suicide Prevention Resource Center) and would expand the program's focus from youth suicides to suicides across the lifespan, particularly among groups that are at high risk for suicide. Moreover, the bill would reauthorize and modify a grant program to enhance services for students with mental health or substance use disorders at institutions of higher education.
December 2013
  • Sent a letter commending Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., for his efforts to improve the mental system with the introduction of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013 (H.R. 3717). This legislation seeks to strengthen resources for prevention, early intervention and treatment for individuals with serious mental illness and their families and includes some provisions that APA has previously supported.
Feb. 27, 2013
  • Participated at a staff-only invitational briefing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) 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 such topics as school/campus mental health services, psychology workforce, child trauma, violence against women, and mental health and aging.
March 2013
  • Responded to a Senate office request for comments on a bill to improve the effectiveness of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by modifying a federal statutory provision that precludes possession of a firearm by an individual who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been admitted to a mental institution.” Our recommended changes would serve to further reduce the stigma associated with this provision and other proposed terminology.
April 4, 2013
  • Advocated successfully with the Senate HELP Committee for the inclusion of key provisions related to campus suicide prevention in the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 689) and sent an APA letter of support to the committee. The bill, which was passed by the committee and considered in mid-April as an amendment to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 (S. 649), passed the Senate by a vote of 95-2. Because the underlying bill failed, the amendment did not stand. The amendment incorporated APA’s service priorities noted above and other favorable provisions. APA also sent a letter (PDF, 92KB) as part of the Mental Health Liaison Group on May 3 to the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders to express support for S. 689.
April 15, 2013
  • Co-signed a coalition letter to the full Senate, as part of the Gun Violence Prevention Stakeholders Group, urging attention to the health effects of gun violence in the congressional debate. This coalition was formed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to promote coordination among government relations staff from diverse organizations. The two dozen or so members represent health providers, public health officials, preventive medicine and early child development experts, and gun safety advocates, among others.
April 16, 2013
  • Collaborating with the Mental Health Liaison Group (MHLG) to inform Congress about the mental health proposals advanced by the vice president’s task force. APA member Arthur Evans Jr., PhD, commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, advocated a public health approach to mental health focused on early identification and intervention as a panelist at an MHLG congressional briefing.
May 6, 2013
  • Submitted APA testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies (L-HHS-ED) in support of the president’s request for $10 million for gun violence prevention research and for $20 million for expansion of the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System. The testimony noted that the freeze on federal funding for gun violence research has significantly hampered psychological scientists’ ability to systematically assess risks and to determine the effectiveness of various preventive measures. It pointed to the promising research directions to be proposed by the new IOM committee on priorities for a public health research agenda to reduce the threat of firearm-related violence.
June 26, 2013
  • Co-sponsored congressional briefing with other members of the Injury and Violence Prevention Network on “Violence Prevention throughout the Lifespan.” The briefing highlighted the important work of CDC’s National Center of Injury Prevention and Control in informing and supporting violence prevention efforts across community and health care settings. APA arranged for psychologist Deborah Gorman-Smith, PhD, (director of the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention and professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration) to be a presenter. She described the prevalence of violence among youth and emphasized the importance of research and evaluation in developing evidence-based violence prevention programs across populations. Other panelists included a CDC official, a city health commissioner and the assistant director of a prevention medicine residency program.
July 2013
  • Sent a letter in early July to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies in support of at least $10 million in new funding for CDC in FY 2014, along with sufficient new funding at NIH, to support research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. Co-signers of this CDC coalition letter include other health, public health and child advocacy organizations with which APA continues to collaborate on appropriations efforts in support of the president’s FY 2014 budget request of $10 million for gun violence prevention research. This new funding was ultimately included in the bill that was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
October 2013
  • Sent letters to leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in October, requesting a FY 2014 appropriation of $18.465 million to expand CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). This dollar amount is consistent with the funding level requested in the Senate Appropriations Committee's approved FY 2014 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill. The NVDRS is currently operational in 18 states. The APA-requested appropriation would facilitate the program's expansion to encompass at least 45 states. Co-signers of this letter include other health, public health and child advocacy organizations with which APA continues to collaborate.
  • 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.
Other Organizations

Collaboration with Other Organizations

Jan. 14, 2013

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

Sept. 6, 2013

APA President Donald Bersoff delivered a presentation entitled, “Violence Prevention: Policies and Activities of the American Psychological Association,” at the III Congreso de Psicologia (3rd Congress of Psychology) in Bogota, Colombia.

APA Policy

APA Policy-Related Initiatives

February 2014

APA Council of Representatives adopted the Resolution on Firearm Violence Research and Prevention at its Feb. 13-15, 2014, meeting. The resolution is intended to reflect current knowledge on gun violence research and prevention, inform the field and provide a strong foundation for APA. It replaces the 1994 APA Council Resolution on Firearm Safety and Youth. APA Council of Representatives created the APA Policy Review Task Force on Gun Violence Prediction and Prevention in February 2013, with the charge of recommending a new APA policy. 

December 2013

APA expert panel released a report, entitled “Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy,” on Dec. 12. The panel had been charged with writing an empirically based report on the prediction and prevention of gun violence. The report, intended for policymakers and the news media, conveys 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 helped to inform the work of a subsequent APA policy review task force. 

January 2013

APA convened the APA Task Force on Violent Media to review the 2005 APA resolution on violent video games and interactive media (PDF, 89KB). The task force is reviewing the relevant scientific literature and will make recommendation s to the Council of Representatives regarding the need to revise the policy. If revisions are deemed warranted, the task force will recommend specific changes and provide supporting materials.


Outreach to the APA Membership and General Public

  • APA’s CEO provided periodic briefings to the APA Council of Representatives and other governance groups 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.
  • 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.