Survivors of gun violence and the experience of recovery

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2020 Jul;89(1):29-35. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000002635.


Background: Survivors of gun violence may develop significant mental health sequelae and are at higher risk for reinjury through repeat violence. Despite this, survivors of gun violence often return to the community where they were injured with suboptimal support for their mental health, emotional recovery, and well-being. The goal of this study was to characterize the posthospitalization recovery experience of survivors of gun violence.

Methods: We conducted a qualitative research study with a community-based participatory research approach. In partnership with a community-based organization, we conducted in-depth one-on-one interviews and used snowball sampling to recruit survivors of gun violence. We applied the constant comparison method of qualitative analysis to catalogue interview transcript data by assigning conceptual codes and organizing them into a consensus list of themes. We presented the themes back to the participants and community members for confirmation.

Results: We conducted 20 interviews with survivors of gun violence; all were black men, aged 20 years to 51 years. Five recurring themes emerged: (1) Isolation, physical and social restriction due to fear of surroundings; (2) Protection, feeling unsafe leading to the desire to carry a gun; (3) Aggression, willingness to use a firearm in an altercation; (4) Normalization, lack of reaction driven by the ubiquity of gun violence in the community; and (5) Distrust of health care providers, a barrier to mental health treatment.

Conclusion: Survivors of gun violence describe a disrupted sense of safety following their injury. As a result, they experience isolation, an increased need to carry a firearm, a normalization of gun violence, and barriers to mental health treatment. These maladaptive reactions suggest a mechanism for the violent recidivism seen among survivors of gun violence and offer potential targets to help this undertreated, high-risk population.

Level of evidence: Care management/Therapeutic V.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Community-Based Participatory Research
  • Fear
  • Firearms / statistics & numerical data
  • Gun Violence*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Isolation
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Trust
  • Wounds, Gunshot / psychology*