September 20, 2019 | 70° F

Rutgers launches New Jersey center on gun violence


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Photo by Nick Romanenko |

 Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) gave the keynote address at the event. He said the fight against gun violence was not just about politics, but about common sense and wider-reaching public policy solutions. 


Yesterday, the New Jersey Center on Gun Violence Research at Rutgers University was launched, holding its inaugural conference, “Preventing Gun Violence in NJ: A Call to Action,” with speakers Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) and professional researchers.

The conference was hosted by Dr. Michael Gusmano, the center’s director of Outreach, and featured a panel discussion with researchers Shireen Rizvi, Richard Stansfield, Joe Pascarella, Valerio Bacak and Ping-hsin Chen.

The goal of the conference and center, said Chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical Health Sciences (RBHS) Brian Strom, is to shed light and take action on gun violence.

“Across our nation, there are over a hundred thousand firearm-related incidents annually and almost a third of those resulting in a death," he said. "There are known but underutilized ways to address this and new approaches are needed as well. That's why we are here today: to share ideas, generate dialogue, provoke debate and lay the groundwork for evidence-based policies and generate scholarly cooperation in an interdisciplinary fashion.”

The New Jersey Center on Gun Violence Research is a joint effort between RBHS and Rutgers University—Newark’s School of Criminal Justice and is 1 of only 2 centers in the nation that have been set up to conduct gun violence research.

“We're starting yet another big initiative at Rutgers in public health. That should not be a surprise to anybody. After all, it was a Rutgers alum (who) first identified the disease that we later came to call AIDS. It was just a few years ago when the Obama administration turned to Rutgers to ask, 'What are we going to do about the issue of sexual violence on campus?'” University President Robert L. Barchi said. “Our faculty are tracking some of the biggest issues of population and public health. Now we ask, 'What are we going to do about this issue of gun violence?'”

Trauma surgeon and Director of Surveillance at the center, Stephanie Bonne, gave a keynote address on gun violence and the center’s planned approach. The perspectives of physicians, she said, is vital.

“I see gun violence every single day,” she said. “This is our lane, this is what we do. There is only two people that can tell the difference between what a handgun and an AR-15 can do to someone’s liver, and it’s me and the coroner.”

The center will take a public health approach that focuses on prevention, Bonne said.

“We have ... (been) less successful ... (at) applying the model to gun violence prevention ... but that’s why we’re here today,” she said.

The center, said Co-Director Bernadette Hohl, is supported by an administrative core and is divided into four branches: surveillance, research, training and education and outreach.

“There’s value in a center approach — we can support a broad range of activities beyond just the one project. It gives the opportunity for respectful, mutual, beneficial collaborations," she said.  "We’re really able to maximize those relationships for multiple projects and activities. It provides the opportunity to train future leaders, leverages many of the resources being provided to us and allows us to be responsive to the needs of communities.”

The center hopes to take a multifaceted, multidisciplinary, collaborative and evidence-based approach to gun violence. Its mission, said Co-Director Michael Ostermann, is to provide high-quality multidisciplinary research on gun violence causality and prevention and to translate this research into clear actionable policies and programs.

“It's our aim as a center to perform scientifically rigorous research at the highest quality in order to adjust existing policies and programs and/or to create new ones with the intention that our research will create safer and healthier environments for the citizens of New Jersey. Through our outreach, training and education efforts, we want to formulate national policies that can be exported to other jurisdictions as well,” he said.

In his keynote address, Murphy weighed in on addressing gun violence through action.

“The fight against gun violence isn't about politics and in many ways it's not even about guns. It's about the search for common sense and far reaching public policy solutions. Thoughts and prayers are not sufficient. Action must be our only guiding principle,” he said.

For more than two decades, Murphy said, Congress has blocked important multidisciplinary research on gun violence and an academic consortium is needed to bring together insights and opinions from across the region. To raise awareness, build support, and create effective solutions, an evidence-based approach is critical.

“This must be the goal of the New Jersey Center on Gun Violence Research: to replace opinion with irrefutable facts,” he said, “We have already proven through our actions that we can have common sense gun safety laws that are fully respectful of the second amendment. Let us take our inspiration from the words of Dr. Bonne: ‘We're not anti-gun, we are anti-bullet hole.’”

Murphy elaborated on his thoughts about the work being led by Rutgers University.

“With firm footholds in each region of our state, Newark, New Brunswick and Camden, North, Central and South, we can assure not just a whole-Rutgers or a whole-government, but a truly whole-state approach that will educate and inform sound public policy decisions.”

The conference was also attended by Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-N.J.) and representatives from Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.


Aparna Ragupathi

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