Column: While D.C. schools research gun violence, more lives will be lost

Confronted with mass shootings across the country and an uptick in gun-related crimes in D.C this year, GW has joined local universities and colleges to find solutions to gun violence. The Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, a group that includes GW among other D.C. schools, created the 120 Initiative last month to research and recommend tangible steps to reduce gun violence. While GW’s commitment to the initiative is admirable, it can only do so much to keep us safe. We don’t need a research project – we need immediate change.

The 120 Initiative will take six months to deliver its findings, but to save time, money and, most importantly, lives, it should revise its approach. If roughly 120 Americans die every day from gun violence, hence the organization’s name, then more than 20,000 Americans will die from gun violence before the group publishes its findings. There’s no time to lose – rather than brainstorm new solutions to gun violence, let’s implement policies we already know can make an impact. The 120 Initiative would be more beneficial if it funded or advocated for violence prevention programs and other policies that have already proven effective.

Stricter gun laws in D.C. and across the country can prevent these horrific acts of gun violence. While regulations vary in type and severity from state to state, there’s a correlation between stricter gun laws and lower rates of gun-related deaths. According to the gun violence prevention advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, tightly-regulated Hawaii has one of the lowest rates of gun deaths in the country, while Mississippi has the weakest gun laws and the highest rate of gun deaths in the nation. But states can only do so much to control firearms within their borders, especially when surrounding states impose little to no regulations. Take Illinois as an example – though it strictly regulates guns, firearms purchased in loosely-regulated Indiana have wound up at crime scenes in Chicago. State regulations work, but it’ll take truly transformative federal policy to undo these loopholes.

Looking at the United States as a whole, gun homicides are significantly higher here than in the rest of the world. Why is that? While gun violence has become commonplace in America, some countries have clamped down hard on gun ownership in the wake of tragic mass shootings. Twenty years ago, a mass shooting killed 35 people in Australia, and the Australian government instituted a massive gun buyback program to buy and destroy weapons – since then, it avoided the sheer death tolls that American mass shootings have racked up at grocery stores, schools and parades in the United States. Japan, which has about 10 shooting deaths per year, requires its citizens to complete a rigorous set of checks that include attending an all-day class, passing a written test and achieving at least 95 percent accuracy during a shooting range test before they can own a gun.

Even our typically gridlocked, out-of-touch Congress was able to pass bipartisan gun legislation one month after the May 24 shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. But although it’s the first gun control measure to come out of Congress in nearly three decades, this bill is only moderately effective while states still differ drastically in firearm regulations. Nor should it take tragedy after tragedy and immense public pressure to catch legislators’ attention – more than half of Americans think we need stricter laws on firearms sales, according to a June 2022 Gallup poll. Americans are frustrated that we’re still here, and they’re tired of their grief and anger falling on the ears of apathetic lawmakers who trot out the same lines after every tragedy.

With numerous proven solutions to gun violence staring us in the face, it’s clear that we already know what to do – now we just have to do it. There are only so many solutions that more research can find. The 120 Initiative doesn’t need to spend its time coming up with new ideas to reduce gun violence. It should shift its focus to demanding immediate policy change through its influence. Requiring universal background checks or banning privately-made, untraceable “ghost guns” would reduce gun violence. While these universities are rightfully concerned about appearing overtly “political,” they’ll have to take a public stance if they’re really dedicated to reducing gun violence. Engaging experts and floating solutions can only go so far.

If the initiative wants to make real change outside the halls of Capitol Hill, it could support violence prevention programs for at-risk communities. A study by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform found that roughly 500 people are responsible for as much as 70 percent of D.C.’s gun violence, with about 200 people behind the city’s homicides and shootings. The District’s recently-launched Violence Prevention Program targets these individuals to stop shootings before they start – bolstered by the 120 Initiative’s resources, influential figures and thousands of students, it could improve the safety of the city.

The leaders of D.C.’s colleges and universities are taking gun violence seriously. While that’s more than can be said of many of our elected officials, the 120 Initiative’s goals are still misguided. We don’t need “thoughts and prayers” and empty promises, nor do we need months and months of research and analysis – gun violence is neither inevitable nor unsolvable, but the clock is ticking. Let’s act now.

Jane Cameron, a rising senior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is an opinions writer.

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