Presidents at 16 colleges in DC area form coalition to tackle gun violence

University of Maryland, Georgetown and others launch 120 Initiative to prevent 'mass slaughter of citizens' in future.

Darryll Pines, the president of the University of Maryland, noted the sad reminders of the gun violence gripping America and shattering the lives of so many families: the image of flags at institutions of higher education flying “ceaselessly at half-staff.”

Tired of the rhetoric and seeking to reverse a nationwide trend that has seen 314 mass shootings in 193 days this year, Pines and 15 other presidents in the Washington, DC area have formed a coalition to advance “promising, actionable solutions.” It is called the 120 Initiative, strikingly named in honor of the number of people that die each day from guns.

“Today, we add university presidents to the call for change,” Pines said. “Why? Because guns are now the leading cause of death for young people, and we are charged with shaping young minds to tackle the grand challenges of our time. Because we lead communities that are deeply affected by the mass slaughter of citizens. And because universities are often the source of change and progress.”

The Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes powerhouse universities such as Georgetown, Howard, George Washington and George Mason, will be conducting research over the next six months and releasing recommendations on how to end the chilling cycle of shootings that have led to more than 23,000 deaths this year. Experts will be working across a range of topics, from the mental health epidemic to lack of response from business leaders to new education, technology advances and advocacy that might make a difference.

“Our region arguably has the widest variety of public, private, and government expertise and Consortium universities and colleges are established leaders at the intersection of research, practice and policy, especially on national issues,” said Dr. Andrew Flagel, president and CEO of the Consortium. “The 120 Initiative will collectively leverage our expertise to spur substantive progress on behalf of the nation and the more than 400,000 students in Consortium institutions.”

Despite the new Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed by Congress, which directs stronger measures to prevent violence including further background checks for those under 21 and those who have a history of domestic violence, critics say it doesn’t go far enough. They are increasing calls on bans of assault rifles, which have become the de facto weapons used by gunmen in many of the most high-profile incidents, from Sandy Hook to Uvalde to the recent Fourth of July Parade killings in Highland Park, Ill. They aren’t the only problem. Handguns are a leading cause of death in the U.S., including many that are either accidental or from suicide. The number of guns in the U.S. is also increasing exponentially each year.

More from UB: How one college in Boston is helping fight gun violence

Even President Biden, who hailed the passage of the law—largely because it crossed both sides of the aisle—admitted it has its limits. “Make no mistake about it, this legislation is real progress,” he said. “But more has to be done.” The fact that dialogue is continuing among legislators, however, does give hope to higher education leaders that they might be able to do more.

“We are encouraged by political leaders at all levels and in all parties continuing to collaborate to make meaningful progress on reducing gun violence in America,” said Dr. Gregory Washington, president of George Mason University. “At the same time, President Pines and I proposed this initiative because we know that there are a host of non-political solutions that are desperately needed if we hope to change the tragic and escalating epidemic of gun violence.”

Aside from the five institutions mentioned above, the consortium will include affiliate members Johns Hopkins University and Virginia Tech, along with representatives from American University, the Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, Marymount University, Montgomery College, Northern Virginia Community College, Prince George’s Community College, Trinity Washington University, University of the District of Columbia, University of Maryland Global Campus.


Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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