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Methodological Note for Beyond Measure: Gun Violence Trauma


The United States is a nation of gun violence survivors. Every day, 120 Americans are killed with guns and more than 200 are shot and wounded. This Note is a companion to “Gun Violence Trauma: Beyond the Numbers.”

To better understand the breadth and depth of trauma experienced by survivors of gun violence, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund conducted 16 focus groups with 103 survivors of gun violence with diverse identities that have not been extensively researched. The makeup of the focus groups was as follows: 39 bereaved parents, 12 students, 19 Latinx survivors, 36 Black survivors, and 18 LGBTQ+ community members—many of the participants hold more than one of these identities. The focus groups took place from January to mid-March 2023. All participants were over the age of 18 and identified as survivors of gun violence. People may identify as survivors of gun violence if they have witnessed acts of gun violence, experienced domestic violence with a firearm, have been threatened with a gun, or have a loved one who has been wounded or killed with a gun. The experiences of survivors reflect the scope of gun violence in America, ranging from homicide, suicide, domestic violence, mass shootings, and hate-motivated violence, among others.

The focus groups were approved by the Pearl IRB Institutional Review Board (IRB) to protect the rights, welfare, and confidentiality of participants. Participants in this study were recruited from Everytown for Gun Safety’s database of volunteers and through partner organizations that support survivors of gun violence. Participants received IRB-approved recruitment materials, such as the flyer with the study information, through email and text message. All participants signed a consent form, which included their rights, such as the ability to withdraw from the study at any time. In addition, the researchers provided mental health resources, and a licensed clinician on staff with Everytown was on the call to provide emotional support for participants. Following the focus group, every participant received a $25 prepaid Mastercard gift card for their participation in the study.

Prior to the focus groups, participants were asked to complete a survey with demographic and experience questions regarding their race, gender, sexuality, and geographic location in the United States. Participants then attended one of the 16 focus groups conducted by the researchers. Previous studies have shown that three focus groups are sufficient to capture 80 percent of themes, and three to six focus groups are sufficient for 90 percent of themes. Thus, 16 focus groups provided an adequate sample size to identify a range of themes, and researchers documented theoretical saturation at this stage.

A focus group methodology was chosen as the most appropriate means to explore gun violence survivors’ experiences and thoughts on trauma. This methodology involves asking a group of participants open-ended questions in a supportive environment that encourages people to share their experiences and views. There are many advantages to focus group research. The method can yield detailed, in-depth information to study social processes, provide insights into complex social phenomena, and facilitate openness among participants as they provide their own language to describe their experiences—this is particularly relevant for survivors who share experiences of gun violence. Thus, the focus group approach was used to gain a deeper understanding of the intersections of gun violence and trauma.

All focus groups were conducted by a trained researcher and a trauma-informed expert who have some training and experience in running focus groups. The focus groups were conducted and recorded on Zoom. Each participant was asked to rename themselves to protect their anonymity. Each session was also attended by an assistant who observed the focus group to aid in subsequent analysis. Focus groups lasted approximately one hour to one hour and 15 minutes. Data collected from the focus groups were professionally transcribed and then professionally analyzed using Nvivo qualitative coding software. A line-by-line analysis was completed to develop theoretical codes, and three to four focus groups were analyzed at a time to determine themes, categories, and connections across categories and themes. Following the approach of researchers Tiggemann, Gardiner, and Slater, each theme from the focus groups was rated on frequency, intensity, extensiveness, specificity, and level of agreement. These approaches subjected the data to a systematic analysis of themes and concepts.

Focus Group Interview Question Guide

  1. What do you think about gun violence in America today?
  2. What was your experience with gun violence?

    Probe: What thoughts or feelings are coming up for you all, as you are sharing your story and hearing everyone else’s story?
  3. When you first learned about or experienced the incident of gun violence, what kind of response(s) did you have? This can include financial responses, emotional responses, physical responses, and spiritual responses.

    Probe: What would you say were your greatest needs at that time? What did you need the most help with?
  4. In the six months after the incident of gun violence, what kind of response(s) did you have? This can include financial responses, emotional responses, physical responses, and spiritual responses.

    Probe: What would you say were your greatest needs at that time? What did you need the most help with?
  5. We know each of you have different lengths of time since your incident of gun violence, is there anything else you have needed or needed help with over the years related to gun violence?
  6. What was most helpful or hurtful to you as you coped with the effects of gun violence?
  7. How did these incidents impact those around you, such as experiencing lasting adverse effects on their daily functioning (daily life tasks) and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being?
  8. Think for a moment, if you had to estimate a number of people who were traumatically impacted by that incident of gun violence that you experienced, what would that number be? This may include immediate family members or other people who do not have a familial relationship.
  9. From your experience, is there anything you believe is unique to you or your identity(ies) in coping or responding to trauma?
  10. Not everyone who experiences trauma also experiences post-traumatic growth. After the incident of gun violence, were there any changes you would categorize as resulting in a positive outcome or growth? For example, some people report:
    • Increased appreciation for life and what life brings;
    • Increased positive relationships with others; 
    • New possibilities and opportunities that would not have been available otherwise;
    • Recognition of your own personal strength; and/or
    • Spiritual enhancement or stronger religious faith.
  11. How can survivors of gun violence be better supported?
  12. Is there anything else that you want to talk about that we did not discuss?

Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.

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