May 2, 2018

Howard Joins National Gun Violence Consortium

By Donald Gilpin

In the absence of action from Washington, seven governors have created a consortium of leaders and scholars, launching an “unprecedented” effort to study gun violence as a public health issue.

Princeton Council member Heather Howard, health policy expert and lecturer in public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, is one of a distinguished array of 34 scholars appointed to the consortium that will be pursuing the research agenda, “taking the best ideas from across the region” with a goal of “informing the policy agenda,” according to Howard.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and the governors of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Puerto Rico have enlisted the 34 to undertake “significant new research on all manners of gun violence, data collection, and analysis across multiple disciplines,” providing the public “with new information to ultimately reduce the scourge of gun violence,” according to last week’s announcement from Murphy’s office.

“We’re losing young people across our state to the senseless epidemic of gun violence as Congress sits idly by on this issue,” Murphy said. “Those of us at the state and local level are taking matters into our own hands to curb violence in our communities. That’s why I’m proud to join my fellow governors in creating the nation’s first regional gun violence research consortium.”

Murphy noted that 80 percent of New Jersey gun crimes are committed with a gun trafficked across state borders from outside the state. The announcement emphasizes the importance of filling the gap created by lack of research on gun violence on the federal level.

“This groundbreaking consortium fills the void left by the federal government’s 1996 ban on the use of federal funds to study gun violence,” the announcement continued, “which has obstructed research efforts across the nation, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.”

Howard, one of five New Jersey researchers in the consortium, expressed her excitement at the prospect of working with the nation’s first Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium. “This is really unprecedented,” she said. “We’ve never gotten these governors together, sharing data, and now creating a
research consortium so that we can learn from each other. This is unprecedented in scope and exciting in its

She went on to emphasize the urgency of the moment. “To me it’s an all-hands-on-deck crisis,” she said. “We’re seeing it every day in the news. Some events are high profile, but we know there’s a daily toll of gun violence.”

Pointing out that there are different cultures around the country, but that attitudes are changing, Howard stated, “That’s what’s so exciting about the current climate, the engagement of young people who won’t tolerate inaction in a way that, sadly, others have. It feels like things are changing on the ground. When the governor of Florida signed into law bills that he had previously opposed, that signals how things are changing. That will be an issue in the fall election. We’re poised to take advantage of that change, and hopefully we will be able to recruit more allies.”

Howard emphasized, however, that the consortium is focused on public health, not politics, and she noted, “I’m particularly interested in applying lessons learned from public health initiatives.” She compared the progress made in reducing automobile fatalities. “We made cars safer, roads safer, drivers safer.”

Howard and her colleagues are looking at a variety of ways to intervene to reduce the harm from gun violence, including making the product safer, such as fingerprint guns or heavier triggers, or educating users. “There are lessons there in traffic fatalities reductions, and we need to be strategic,” Howard said. “The governor has recently signed into law several gun safety measures, but we need to build up that research base so that we can continue to implement policy intervention. We don’t have nearly the research that we should have, so we’re playing catch-up, and that’s why we need to be much smarter about leveraging what everybody is doing and learning from each other.”

Murphy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo came together in February to form a “States for Gun Safety” coalition, sharing mental health data, arrest warrants, and orders of protection in order to prevent unwarranted gun purchases. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Delaware Governor John Carney, and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello have joined the group over the past three months.

“The moment feels different now,” Howard said. “There’s momentum. People are committed.”