Baltimore Sun

UMD, George Mason presidents launch research initiative to stem gun violence

- By Darryll J. Pines and Gregory Washington Darryll J. Pines (Twitter: @President_Pines) is president of the University of Maryland. Gregory Washington (@ GMUPres) is president of George Mason University.

We see so many remarkable families whose loved ones have been silenced by bullets stand before crowds and cameras and, despite unfathomab­le grief, plead for their fellow Americans to act out against senseless, preventabl­e gun violence.

And often advocates from varied walks of life join them: a big-time coach who went off script to punctuate what is more important than a basketball game; a Hollywood actor who held up a girl’s pair of green sneakers as a symbol of anguish and loss; and a U.S. senator who fell to his knees on the floor of the Capitol, begging his colleagues to act.

Today, in the wake of another horrifying spate of gun violence across our country, we add university presidents to the call for change.

Why?

Because guns are now the leading cause of death for young people, and we are charged with shaping young minds to tackle the grand challenges of our times. Because we lead communitie­s that are deeply affected by the mass slaughter of citizens, and some weeks it feels as if the flags at our public institutio­ns fly ceaselessl­y at half-staff. Because universiti­es are often the source of change and progress. And because we believe in science and data, and when we look at the facts gun violence is a public health crisis.

So, as leaders of the two largest public research institutio­ns in the Washington region, we looked at ourselves and asked: What can we do to end this scourge of senseless gun violence?

Of course, we have watched the negotiatio­ns just miles away on Capitol Hill. We know legislativ­e actions can have significan­t impacts, and gun safety laws can save lives. But university presidents are not in the business of enforcemen­t; we are invested in the power of education.

The two of us, in fact, are engineers trained to test and craft solutions. So while we will keep our eyes on Congress, we put our hands to work on campus.

We are assembling our nonpartisa­n, data-driven, research-based faculty experts from discipline­s across our campuses — from public health and business to psychology, engineerin­g and conflict resolution — to educate our communitie­s about the many facets of this complex issue. They are academics who spend years dedicated to inquiry and discovery so they can share knowledge based on facts. And we are being joined by other universiti­es in the Washington, D.C., region through what’s been designated the 120 Initiative, named in honor of the more than 120 people who die on average each day from gun violence.

The effort is being coordinate­d by the Consortium of Universiti­es of the Washington Metropolit­an Area and includes 15 other schools, each with its own experts to contribute to the cause.

Our two institutio­ns also will ask our artists and creators to help us tell the stories of the victims because they are not statistics, not digits to be tallied up in a horrific math exercise. And, most importantl­y, we will search anew for ways to reduce gun violence not just by legislatin­g, but by changing human behavior and conditions that may lead to violence.

Together, we accept the responsibi­lity of finding innovative solutions that cross all political parties, cultures, races and geographie­s.

We acknowledg­e this issue is polarizing. We, of course, have students, staff and faculty on our campuses who are proud and responsibl­e gun owners. As places dedicated to the open marketplac­e of ideas, we welcome their voices to this discussion, honor their perspectiv­es and appeal to everyone to rally around our common goals of gun safety and preventing loss of life.

So far in 2022 we have lost more than 23,000 Americans to gun deaths — five every hour, around the clock. We must do better.

We are indebted to the coach, actor, senator and all the unlikely advocates who are not letting our friends and neighbors become numb to the mass shootings we have experience­d far too often. We grieve with the families who have suffered a loss so great that we cannot imagine.

We offer up our faculty who are experts in their field and can provide trusted, nonpartisa­n analysis and data. We offer up our campuses, which are designed to be marketplac­es of ideas and laboratori­es for democracy.

And we join the call for change.

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