John Jay College of Criminal Justice (JJC) is hosting a comprehensive four-month-long themed initiative, to take place in spring 2017, titled America’s Gun Epidemic: A Question of Public Health, Security, and Freedom. The initiative will explore in-depth – using an interdisciplinary framework and cross-sectional approaches - the highly contested issues of gun violence, control, and safety in the country through convening, educating, engaging, mobilizing and empowering all stakeholders; conducting various research projects; creating networks; publicizing and disseminating findings; creating guiding principles and sensible policy recommendations; and utilizing the media for extensive reporting and wide dissemination of publications and reports.
Firearm deaths and injuries are an extremely destructive and traumatic reality for the American society. This has yet again become evident on June 12 of this year when Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 53 others inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, using an assault rifle and a gun. Since this deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the controversy over gun control erupted anew, resulting in four quickly defeated gun control measures before House Democrats staged a sit in on Capitol Hill in protest of congressional inaction. While research remains sparse the issue of gun safety, ownership, and control in the U.S. continues to be a hotly debated controversy that sharply polarizes the public.
While the discussion of gun possession and control remain at the forefront of the national debate, the number of gun related deaths has remained more or less flat for homicides and steadily increased for suicides since a drop from an unprecedented high in 1993. In 2013, fatal gun related injuries amounted to 33,636 deaths in America, including 21,175 (63%) suicides according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Research has continued to demonstrate the persistence of gun related murders despite the fall in crime following the 1990s, with The United States gun murder rate more than five times the number of gun deaths compared to the top Western European nations. Background checks and other methods of controlling the acquisition and use of guns are insufficiently practiced and limited in their capacity to curtail the deaths and injuries caused by firearms. Media presentations of gun deaths have served only to exacerbate the problem, frequently distorting reality and fueling misconceptions regarding the use and power of these weapons.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) remains a powerful lobbyist for gun ownership and rights, inserting their influence in Congressional debates and research policy on gun safety. Since the adoption of Congressman Dickey’s proposed amendment in 1996 to restrict research on the use of firearms by the CDC, funding for extensive and consistent research has been restricted at the federal level and remains scarce at the philanthropic and academic level. With little or false information available, the general public remains as divided over the issue as are political parties and both groups are frequently misinformed through sensational media reporting, inadequate and biased research, and swayed by isolated incidences of violent acts, oftentimes leading to extreme counterproductive reactions, such as the presumed need for more firearms.
Rationale for Initiative:
The destructive cycle of gun related suicides, homicides, and mass shootings has a ripple effect that extends beyond the victims and perpetrators. More often than not, such incidents create a sense of fear and insecurity that can traumatize the nation as a whole. Little research has been conducted discussing the broad traumatic implications gun violence can have. From severe physical damage and mental health issues for victims to long-lasting trauma to families, communities, and entire cities, the damage inflicted through the use of guns is palpable and real. While statistics on gun related homicides and suicides demonstrate the detrimental impact of the wrongful use of guns in numerical terms, it is important to create a meaningful and comprehensive conversation involving all affected parties to evaluate the financial and social costs of gun deaths and injuries. The complex nature of one of the most controversial issues in the country cannot be resolved unless continued dialogue and information sharing takes place. The convening of different stakeholders is crucial and needs to take place in a safe space where different viewpoints and ideas can be shared openly and experiences can be expressed in different forms. Rather than widening the existing rift around the issue of gun rights and control, all parties must make an effort to find common ground and reach consensus on the broader implications of gun control and, by association, the safety of the public. Most importantly, the public has a right to be informed in order to make educated decisions regarding policies.
John Jay College is hosting a comprehensive semester-long themed initiative, to take place in spring 2017. As the preeminent College exploring criminal and social justice issues, John Jay is uniquely situated to hold such a comprehensive initiative by providing an environment that is safe, inviting and respectful of opposing views. The goal is to better understand how Americans think and feel about guns and to educate and mobilize the public through various projects, presentations, and networking events. The initiative differs from traditional conversations in fundamental ways and consists of five major areas: (1) academic panel presentations with scholars, experts, students, policymakers, legislators, representatives from law enforcement and security, foundation representatives, practitioners, community advocacy leaders, and featured keynote speakers; (2) research projects, surveys, and interviews that capture the public attitude on the issue; (3) journalistic contributions addressing the role and influence of the media; (4) faculty/student projects integrated into class curricula during the spring semester and collaboratively presented during the campaign; (5) exhibits, screenings, theatrical and musical performances by independent artists and performers. Most events are open to the public and exposed to maximum media coverage. A final report will evaluate the initiative and offer a set of recommendations and guiding principles for future strategies. All final research products, and suggestions for networking and additional resources will be published on this website.
The College has successfully carried out semester-long themed initiatives in the past. The value of such initiatives lies in their transparent, all-inclusive, and interdisciplinary nature that transcends conventional one-day conferences or presentations. This initiative will be the most far-reaching of its kind on this topic and is expected to have long lasting impact on policy makers, practitioners, and the public.