April 25, 2019 | 54° F

NJ State Senate proposes 2 new bills for a gun violence research center at Rutgers

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Eric Houghtaling (D-NJ-11th), a sponsor of the bill, said that research is an important aspect of ending the gun violence epidemic and keeping New Jersey residents safe.

The State Senate introduced two proposals that put Rutgers on the frontlines for research on gun violence. 

These bills empower the University to engage in scientific research about the issue, including risks, impacts, policy implications and what would help mold policies regarding public firearms, according to a NJ Spotlight article from April.

The first bill would establish the New Jersey Firearm Violence Research Center, modeled after the University of California’s prototype. The center would study various aspects of the issue, such as social factors that contribute to being shot or being a shooter, the impact of gun violence on society, steps to take that would lower gun violence statistics, the effectiveness of the existing laws and strategies to promote responsible firearm use. 

The second bill calls for collaboration between the Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care program and the School of Criminal Justice for an in-depth study on all facets of gun violence, similar to the research that an established research center at the University would do. 

The proposal that allots $400,000 for this initiative was successfully passed through one committee in February and is now awaiting approval by the Senate budget panel. 

These measures were taken in reaction to the federal government’s inaction. Despite the recent surge in mass shootings in the country, the nation’s leaders have not conducted any significant research on the matter to fill the knowledge gap, according to the April article. 

“The prevalence of mass shootings and gun violence is a uniquely American issue. America has more guns than any other country. In order to effectively combat this epidemic, we must arm ourselves with knowledge, not firearms. Only then can we find the root of the issue and address it,” said state Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Monmouth), according to the article. 

Outrage from students nationwide following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting encouraged New Jersey lawmakers to move forward with gun control measures. Last week, the assembly adopted six gun-control bills that limit access to certain firearms and amounts of ammunition allowed to be carried, according to a NJ Spotlight article from March.  

The Garden State has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws and has the sixth-lowest state statistics of gun-related deaths per capita, according to the April article. New Jersey had a total of 485 deaths by gun violence in 2016. 

The proposal that calls for an established research center at the University emphasizes that although the state maintains overall low gun-violence rates, they are not low enough. 

“In local communities where firearm violence is a frequent occurrence, the very structure of daily life is affected. Too little is known about firearm violence and prevention, and not enough research has been done. The crucial need for more sophisticated research, and for more support for the research, is readily apparent," the first bill states, according to April article. 

It stresses the importance of educating people on the subject to create an understanding, not just passing laws and dictating rules. 

The center will not only study firearms issues, but will train gun-violence experts, work with other research institutions and will report to state officials every five years. 

A similar initiative years ago was met with opposition by Rutgers in fear that the state was attempting to meddle in the affairs and academic agenda of the independent University — the school is now committed to working with officials to understand the root of gun violence and design legislation to prevent it, according to the April article.  

“We must end this epidemic in order to keep the residents of New Jersey safe. Research is an important first step towards that goal,” said Eric Houghtaling (D-Monmouth), a sponsor of the bill. 

In January, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) included $2 million in his budget proposal for the fiscal year 2019 to support a gun violence center at Rutgers, according to the April article. 

In February, students from the Brady Campaign chapter at Rutgers spoke with The Daily Targum about their motivation in joining the national walkout for stricter gun laws. 

“Students should care about this walkout because it is directly tied to their safety. Students around the country will be walking out to demand their safety while they learn. It is up to us, the future leaders of this country, to begins securing our safety at school today so that our children won't have to live with the fear we do on a daily basis, (sic)” said Nicholas Malaniak, treasurer for the Rutgers chapter and School of Arts and Sciences senior.  

Erica D'Costa

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