The Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research celebrated 25 years of conducting research and contributing evidence-based solutions to gun violence in the United States during a webcast Wednesday. Featuring a lineup of prominent local, state, and national political leaders as well as faculty from the Bloomberg School of Public Health and policy advocates, the virtual symposium served as a launchpad for the center's plans for the next 25 years and explored the challenges that lay ahead.
Since its founding in 1995, the center's multidisciplinary faculty members have studied the implementation, enforcement, and impacts of gun laws, as well as the effectiveness of law enforcement strategies and community violence prevention efforts. Faculty from the center have frequently been invited to advise federal, state, and local officials and to testify at congressional and state hearings.
The work has been influential in bringing evidence to the U.S. gun policy discussion.
"What made the center stand apart [at its founding] was how it approached rampant gun violence in the United States—not as a war to be fought but as a public health crisis to be managed with sound data and deeply reasoned public policy analysis, propelled by the knowledge that underlying these data are human lives," said JHU President Ronald J. Daniels during the webcast.
Added Bloomberg School Dean Ellen MacKenzie, addressing the center faculty and affiliates: "We've come a long way, yet you continue to deal with the social and political forces that make your work particularly challenging. To your credit and success, you have always brought science and evidence to the debate."
The symposium featured a conversation with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut, who became a prominent leader in the gun reform movement after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, during his term as a U.S. representative. He said that while the experience of Sandy Hook transformed him into a gun policy advocate, there is an imperative to curb not just mass shooting events but everyday gun violence in the U.S., which steadily strips away the safety, security, and well-being of young people in affected communities.
"While we often talk about this epidemic of gun violence through the prism of deaths—100 people dying a day from gunshot wounds—that scratches the surface of the real toll of this epidemic," Murphy said. "As unacceptable as it is that there are 100 people dying from gunshot wounds in this country every day, it's just as unacceptable that a whole generation of children is having their youth, their educations stolen from them because of the trauma that exists [because of gun violence]."
The symposium also explored how the issue of gun violence is deeply enmeshed with issues of race and racism in the United States, and addressing the former requires a meaningful approach to the latter.
"One of the most important aspects of gun violence prevention right now is addressing structural racism and promoting racial justice," said Daniel Webster, center director and Bloomberg Professor of American Health.
"We have to understand that the Baltimore City that we live in today in 2021 is directly connected to Baltimore City being the first place to have a racial redlining law pass. It was weaponized here in Baltimore and taken [around the country]," said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, who tapped Webster to co-chair the Public Health and Safety Committee of his mayoral transition team in November.
In light of these issues of ongoing gun violence and the intersection of violence and structural racism, the center announced a set of new initiatives developed during a yearlong strategic planning process conducted in collaboration with university and community partners to govern the next 25 years. They include:
- Enhancing the center's diversity and inclusion practices
- Increasing the attention paid in research to racial equity and justice in relation to gun violence
- Continuing to produce rigorous and policy-relevant research
- Advancing the understanding of public views on policy and violence reduction programs
- Supporting communities and cities in their violence reduction efforts
- Continuing the center's research translation and educational activities
To reflect these new initiatives, the center will now be called the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.
"Under this new banner, our faculty, staff, and students will continue to generate science and innovative strategies to prevent gun violence and promote justice," said center Deputy Director Cassandra Crifasi, an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Health Policy and Management.
The center also honored individuals and families impacted by gun violence, including Dante Barksdale, a prominent figure in the Baltimore community who dedicated his life to preventing gun violence in the city by serving as an outreach worker and violence interrupter for Safe Streets, a community-based violence prevention program. Barksdale was a victim of gun violence earlier this year.
"They are not just numbers to us," Webster said. "We value their lives, mourn their loss, and care about their families who are forever impacted."
The symposium concluded with the announcement of a new endowed professorship, the Dana Feitler Professor of the Practice in Gun Violence Prevention and Advocacy. The professorship is endowed by the family of Dana Feitler, a young woman committed to social good who was abducted and killed in an armed robbery in 1989.
In addition to the new endowed professorship, the center will welcome two new faculty: Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and a national leader in the field of domestic and intimate partner violence; and Odis Johnson, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of social policy and STEM equity who holds appointments in the schools of Education and Public Health. He is the principal investigator of the national Fatal Interactions With Police study.