NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University will receive a $2 million grant to open a Gun Violence Research Center, school administrators and state officials announced Wednesday in a presentation that included shooting survivor former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.
They appeared at the university with keynote speaker former Gov. James Florio for a discussion on gun violence that included a heavy dose of encouragement to vote in the upcoming midterm elections and oppose the National Rifle Association's lobbying efforts against gun control.
"Now is the time to come together, Democrats, Republicans, everyone, come together to be bold, be courageous. Fight, fight, fight," said Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman, in her brief comments, gesturing with her left arm while her right arm remained at her side.
She and her husband acknowledged her difficulty speaking since she was shot in the head on Jan. 8, 2011, while meeting with constituents at a Safeway Supermarket. The gunman shot 24 other people at the scene, killing six.
Rutgers opened Wednesday's event with a video recording of Gov. Phil Murphy announcing the creation of the New Jersey Center on Gun Violence Research that will be at the university.
“Beginning today, New Jersey will have its very own research center to fill the knowledge gap left by the federal government’s inaction and the gun industry's obstruction," Murphy said.
He said the state office for state Higher Education Secretary Zakiya Smith Ellis selected Rutgers as the home for the center through a competitive process. The center is intended to produce data on and proposed solutions for gun violence prevention, an area of research, Murphy said, from which the federally Centers for Disease Control is prohibited.
"When I joined with fellow governors to create States for Gun Safety, I knew that it would be up to us to undertake the important research that Congress won't," Murphy said in the recorded video statement. "This isn't about politics. It's about creating safe neighborhoods for children and families. It's about common sense solutions," he said.
Florio, who as governor in 1990 signed some of the stiffest gun control laws in the country, including a ban on the sale of assault weapons, called for nationwide reforms, including universal background checks for gun owners.
"Forty percent of gun owners don't go through background checks. That's unreasonable. Sportsmen have 30- or 40-round (bullet) clips for hunting. That's unreasonable," he said, adding that many hunters would support these reforms. "I urge everyone in the state to get engaged and vote," he said.
Kelly, who grew up in West Orange, became a U.S. Navy captain, flew combat missions, became an astronaut, served on the International Space Station, and was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, spoke of the state's tough gun laws and the low percentage gun violence death compared to other states.
The problem in New Jersey, Kelly said, is gun trafficking, firearms coming from other states with less restrictive laws. Since Giffords was shot, she and Kelly have traveled the country advocating for stiffer laws. That issue, Kelly said, has become a primary concern to many voters. He noted the success of nine of the 10 candidates the couple backed in Virginia.
"Dozens of candidates are running on gun safety reform. It's a matter of public safety. It's about saving lives," Kelly said.
The new research center at Rutgers will study the causes, prevention, and reduction of firearm-related violence, and work with state leaders to evaluate and implement policies to prevent gun-related violence.
Dr, Bernadette Hol, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health, who will serve as the center’s co-director, said Rutgers will "conduct critical, multi-disciplinary research that will yield new understandings and actionable steps to prevent gun violence and promote the health and safety of our communities in New Jersey and across the country."
Dr. Michael Ostermann, associate professor in the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice, will the other co-chair of the center.