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Progress on a ‘Human-Driven Problem’

UMD, White House Representative Address Gun Violence Reduction Efforts

By Maryland Today Staff

speaker at PROGRESS event

Rob Wilcox, deputy director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, addresses an audience of faculty members, government officials and community activists at a UMD event in Thurgood Marshall Hall on Wednesday.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

University of Maryland researchers and leaders met with White House representatives, crime victims and community activists on Wednesday to tackle the nationwide epidemic of gun violence at an event hosted by PROGRESS (Prevent Gun Violence: Research, Empowerment, Strategies and Solutions), a new university initiative.

Speaking in Thurgood Marshall Hall, UMD President Darryll J. Pines welcomed Rob Wilcox, deputy director of the inaugural White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention. Pines decried the ongoing bloodshed that spurred him and George Mason University President Gregory Washington to launch the 120 Initiative—its name commemorating the approximate number of lives taken by gun violence daily—in 2022 to direct university research from all around the region at solving the crisis.

“It’s a human-driven problem,” said Pines. “We created it—we should be able to find solutions for it.”

PROGRESS, led by School of Public Health Professor of the Practice Woodie Kessel and MPower Professor of African American studies, Medical Anthropology and Epidemiology Joseph Richardson, launched in November. It studies gun violence, offers educational programming across the state on gun safety and issues policy recommendations.

“Our multidisciplinary approach draws, analyzes and applies data from multiple sectors, including public health and the criminal legal system,” said Richardson to an audience of faculty members, government officials and community activists, including several survivors of shootings. “It’s a new model of equitable university-community research partnerships, with a specific emphasis on being community-driven and -led.”

[Making ‘Progress’ on Gun Violence]

Richardson pointed to a new PROGRESS project to use geo-artificial intelligence (AI) to map both gun violence and prevention efforts, revealing “hidden patterns and actionable solutions."

Wilcox said that he was called to work on the issue of gun violence after his cousin was killed in a shooting at a mental health facility where she was volunteering. The White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention was established in September to facilitate policy changes mandated by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first federal gun control legislation in nearly 30 years.

“It’s so essential that (UMD is) helping to build this momentum” to reduce gun violence, Wilcox said.

Kessel invoked the words of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who often referred to the idea of “good trouble,” asking, “How do we do this good trouble so we can end this bad trouble that we have?"

An earlier version of this article contained an outdated statistic offered by a speaker at the event for the number of lives lost daily to gun violence.

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