The public health approach

According to the CDC, the public health approach to preventing firearm injury in Colorado means using data, best practices, cross-sector collaboration, and community engagement. The approach looks at firearm injury prevention from a health perspective by asking why people are injured and dying. In partnership with local communities, the approach uses data to develop and test solutions. 

It is important to recognize that firearm harms impact the well-being of individuals and communities at large. Acknowledging this issue as a public health concern emphasizes the importance of addressing it comprehensively and collaboratively. The success of using the public health approach to preventing firearm injury relies on collective action between diverse public and private sectors and community agencies and residents. Building and maintaining a community-driven approach involves identifying and collaborating with diverse stakeholders in local communities. 

A public health approach to firearm injury prevention encompasses four key steps:


Step 1. Define and monitor the problem.

To understand the magnitude of firearm injury and violence within and across the state, it is essential to gain an understanding of the current landscape of firearm injury and death. Comprehensive data on all types of firearm injury and violence should be compiled. This includes suicides, interpersonal violence, police-involved shootings, mass shootings, accidental shootings, non-fatal injuries, and demographic and geographic characteristics of those affected. Quality data allow for the alignment of prevention strategies to unique local contexts, risks, and needs. 

Existing data are available at the Colorado Firearm Data Dashboard. Local public health agencies, medical coroners, community organizations, courts, and law enforcement agencies may also have data that can support efforts to learn more about the challenges existing in local communities. 


Step 2. Identify risk and protective factors.

Once a community’s challenges related to firearm injury and death are identified, the next step is to ask why they exist. What factors protect people or put them at risk for experiencing firearm harm? 

  • Risk factors increase the likelihood of a person becoming a victim or perpetrator of harm. 
  • Protective factors decrease the likelihood of a person becoming a victim or perpetrator of harm and provide a buffer against risk. 

Identifying risk and protective factors allows programs to move upstream to address the root causes contributing to experiences and outcomes related to firearm injury and prevent these issues from happening before they occur.


Step 3. Develop and test prevention strategies.

The development and testing of prevention strategies increase the likelihood of success in reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths, as it results in the use of effective prevention strategies. 

The “4 E” framework is useful for considering the prevention strategies necessary to develop and test innovative solutions for preventing firearm injury and death. Examples include:

  • Education: Training or counseling on firearm safety, secure storage practices, or recognizing signs of potential firearm injury. 
  • Engineering: Designing firearms and related accessories to enhance safety and reduce the risk of injury or death. For instance, firearm locking devices can prevent unauthorized access to firearms.  
  • Environment: Making physical and social changes within communities to create environments that promote healthy communities and prevent injury. An example of this is firearm retailers offering temporary, voluntary out-of-home firearm storage to help prevent suicides. 
  • Enactment/enforcement: Developing and enforcing policies and laws that prevent firearm-related injuries and deaths. 

Local communities and practitioners can partner with researchers to pioneer effective community prevention strategies. Please complete this form to be a part of the Colorado Firearm Injury Prevention Directory and connect with others interested in this work. 


Step 4. Ensure widespread adoption of effective strategies.

To successfully prevent firearm injury, communities and practitioners can implement strategies that have been shown to effectively prevent these issues, using the best available scientific and research evidence. Practitioners and communities representing diverse sectors and community members can use local experts and preferences to integrate effective strategies into local needs and values. Blending scientific and community expertise allows groups to:

  • Make decisions and implement strategies that are more likely to succeed in preventing and reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths.
  • Efficiently use public and private resources to address local issues.
  • Create sustainable change and positive environments where Colorado residents can thrive.