News and Insights

Gun Violence: An American Public Health Crisis

June 20, 2023

Tragically in America, we recognize June as Gun Violence Awareness Month and earlier this month many participated in the second annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day. During May, at various university commencement ceremonies, students who would not be crossing the stage in their caps and gowns due to gun violence were recognized. Somber tributes were paid to these young lives unnecessarily lost.

Presidents of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area have been working to address this senseless loss of life, creating a 120 Initiative, named in honor of the more than 120 people who die on average each day from gun homicide or suicide. I’ve asked Andrew Flagel, the president and CEO of the Consortium, to share some of the recommendations from the 120 Initiative.

Q: We think of institutions of higher education focused on learning rather than gun violence. Why did the Consortium undertake the 120 Initiative?

A: Located in the National Capital Region, our colleges and universities are distinctively engaged every day in seeking practical, actionable solutions to some of our country’s greatest challenges.  We have initiatives seeking to reduce food insecurity, increase affordable housing, and increase sustainability.  Given the devastating scope of gun violence, and the direct impact on our students and our community, it was natural that our institutions establish a model for collaborative ways to address the highest potential solutions.

Q: More than 100 subject-matter experts from across the 20 member institutions of the Consortium have been involved in this Initiative. Academic unanimity is rare. Were there a few issues re. a path forward where there was agreement?

A: While the research is not comprehensive, our experts agreed on a number of solutions that research indicates have high potential.  First among these are community violence interruption programs.  The research also indicates that communication and education campaigns that focus on de-escalation and reducing the fascination with guns could be promising, but there was also agreement that it would be crucial that such programs not demonize guns or gun owners.  I believe that all of our experts agreed that the level of investment in research is shockingly small when compared to the massive impact of gun violence.

Q: Around the release of the initiative’s recommendations, you had an amazing day-long conference to further discuss this crisis with university experts. What were your biggest takeaways?

A: I was humbled by the incredible work our faculty and students are doing in our community, especially their efforts at community violence interruption and training community violence interrupters.  I was also impressed with the range of safety and local policies that seem to have wide acceptance among gun owners that have yet to be implemented.

As deaths from gun violence is the number one threat to our children’s lives, it is stunning to me that there is not more action and investment.  Even as our 120 Initiative received wide acclimation from our region, no foundation, corporation, or agency was willing to fund the effort.  That highlights a tremendous discrepancy between the massive funds poured into lobbying on either side compared to efforts to find and test real world solutions.  We must do better.

TAGS: Education