Leaders at Washington, D.C.-area colleges and universities will spend the next several months researching solutions to reduce gun violence — an effort that comes as gun-related crimes rise throughout the region, mass shooters claim lives across the U.S. and campus leaders contend with a mental health crisis. Fifteen members of a consortium of local schools will pool their resources, researchers and faculty experts in areas including maternal and child health, public policy, mental health, criminology and technology. The goal is to provide lawmakers and the public with steps they can take to drive down gun violence, reports the Washington Post. “We have people who think all day and generate new knowledge, new ways of doing things. And, we graduate students,” said Gregory Washington, president of George Mason University. “We feel that it’s our responsibility to do whatever we can.”
Washington said the idea for the initiative started to take shape this spring, after three students on his campus died by suicide with firearms. He contacted Darryll Pines, who leads the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, to discuss what could be done to prevent gun-related deaths. “We’re both engineers,” Pines said, “and the background of engineers is that we’re interested in solutions to problems, however complex they are.” The men decided to include other campuses in the region, which led to the creation of the 120 Initiative. The name is a somber nod to the nationwide average of more than 120 gun deaths a day. Pines said he wants to “take the politics out” of the gun debate and get to solutions — quickly. Over the next six to 12 months, officials will start having actionable items to present to the public. He compared the potential outcomes of the partnership to the popular Smokey Bear and crash dummies public health campaigns that encouraged people to prevent wildfires and to wear seat belts. “Now, we can do something similar to change human behavior” around guns, Pines said.