The 120 Initiative: How UMD Plans to Tackle Gun Violence
By Dylan Lewis
This past summer, UMD’s President Darryll J. Pines and Gregory Washington, president of George Mason University, launched a new research initiative targeting gun violence not only in our DC-area community, but around the United States. The initiative is composed of university leaders in the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, and is entitled the 120 Initiative, a reference to the more than 120 people who die on average each day from gun violence in the US.
Such an initiative is a timely endeavor: America is facing an epidemic of mass shootings and other gun violence. President Pines was inspired to action on this issue after the many devastating mass shootings earlier this year in places like Buffalo, Uvalde, and Highland Park. Just last month a hate crime at an LGBTQ night club in Colorado Springs, CO left five people dead and more than nineteen others injured, while another mass shooting took place at the University of Virginia, in which three people were killed and two others were injured. Numerous studies and statistics address how such acts of violence are uniquely an American problem and are only becoming increasingly prevalent.
As institutions that are home to experts in a wide range of areas such as gun violence, public and mental health, education, and technology, universities are especially well-positioned to address the serious challenges facing our society. Although gun violence is a heavily politicized and sensitive issue, President Pines believes that we must come together with other universities and their leaders through our shared values when trying to tackle the great challenges of our time. Members of the Consortium hope to address the problem of gun violence with attention to education, training, and safety. “Human behavior has to change. That is a big challenge, and it takes time. We have to start somewhere,” Pines said in a recent interview. UMD—with its administration, faculty, students, and resources—certainly has a role to play in that change.
One of the UMD faculty members leading the 120 Initiative is Dr. Joseph Richardson, Jr., the Joel and Kim Feller Professor and MPower Professor of African American Studies and Medical Anthropology. Richardson is a leading scholar on gun violence and trauma whose work specifically addresses the ways that the healthcare and criminal justice systems intersect and impact the lives of Black male survivors of violence. For Richardson, the 120 Initiative is “pathbreaking, groundbreaking work” due to its scope and organization by the Consortium, and he believes it has real potential to generate actionable change locally and nationally. Richardson said some of the Initiative’s participants are already being invited as keynote speakers or participants to meetings, conferences, and symposia on gun violence around the country.
But the 120 Initiative’s broad community of leaders and experts also faces the challenge of where to start and where to direct resources, given the high energy and passion surrounding this initiative. The key is not just to generate data and research on the topic, but also to create workable solutions. While they are still early in the planning phase, Richardson sees many possibilities for UMD’s explicit involvement in the 120 Initiative’s actionable solutions. For example, he suggested how UMD could offer opportunities and resources to people in the DC-area program People of Promise, which has identified as many as 200 people in the area most at risk of committing, or being victimized by, violent gun-related crime, and helps connect them to various support teams. For Pines, embracing education is key to producing actionable solutions. For example, education about the proper handling of firearms and how to safely store them can prevent many incidents of accidental violence.
This month, the 120 Initiative members are meeting to discuss some of their upcoming plans. Pines says they are also organizing a workshop for 2023 that will bring together experts from around the country, not just 120 Initiative participants, to talk about active programs dedicated to reducing gun violence. Pines also noted the recent establishment of the Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction in UMD’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice as another way that UMD is driving these discussions.
To see the UMD Libraries’ resources on the 120 Initiative, visit this site: https://lib.guides.umd.edu/120InitiativeResources.
Participating institutions include: American University, The Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, George Mason University, Georgetown University, The George Washington University, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, Marymount University, Montgomery College, Northern Virginia Community College, Prince George’s Community College, Trinity Washington University, University of the District of Columbia, University of Maryland, University of Maryland Global Campus, and Virginia Tech.
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