Experts gather to talk about guns

One month to the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and just days before Vice President Joe Biden would present a set of recommendations on gun reform to President Barack Obama, global experts on gun policy gathered at the Bloomberg School of Public Health for the Summit on Reducing Gun Violence in America.

President Ronald J. Daniels opened the conference with a moment of silence for the victims of Newtown, Aurora, Blacksburg, and other mass shootings, and those gunned down in the nation's cities and towns daily.

"Because our conversations over the next two days will take place against the backdrop of a bleak record of stunted policy reform in this area, it is tempting to regard this summit as one more exercise in futility," Daniels said during his opening remarks. "Essentially, the skeptics fear that a good idea for gun policy reform is no match for the formidable interests that oppose gun legislation, that this is so even after an event as cataclysmic as Newtown. Yet today, I urge a more optimistic view that is predicated on the belief that we are not slavishly tethered to the current matrix of inadequate national gun laws."

The event's keynote speakers were Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Engr '64, who is also co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. For two days, more than 20 experts presented the latest research and thinking on gun violence in the United States and elsewhere. One of those speakers was Daniel Webster, director of the Bloomberg School's Center for Gun Policy and Research and the moderator of the event, who discussed the need for expanding prohibitions on firearm sales, which could include raising the minimum legal age of handgun possession from 18 to 21, and prohibiting sales to those with documented drug and alcohol dependencies.

At the end of the conference, the summit participants unveiled a set of recommendations aimed at reducing gun violence, including universal background checks on all gun sales, the expansion of conditions for firearm purchase to prohibit high-risk individuals from obtaining guns, a ban on the future sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and increased federal support to enforce laws.

Two weeks after the summit, Johns Hopkins University Press published a book, Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, that compiles all the findings and views presented at the summit. The book was edited by Daniel Webster and Jon Vernick, also with the Center for Gun Policy and Research.

The event, by many measures, was a success. The summit received comprehensive media coverage, and the hashtag #jhugunpolicy trended internationally on Twitter for days. According to staff at the JHU Press, book orders have been quite strong for such a publication. And since the summit, Center for Gun Policy and Research faculty have been in high demand—testifying before a Senate subcommittee on reducing gun violence, appearing on the Today show, and meeting with White House officials, Consumer Product Safety Commission staff, senators, congressmen, and governors.