In an open letter Feb. 19 to the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) community, UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, proposed an economic incentive for gun control in the aftermath of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14. Here is the text of that letter:
Feb. 19, 2018
To the UMB Community:
As a father, grandfather, and pediatrician, I am horrified by the ongoing slaughter of children -- in schools nationwide and on the streets of Baltimore. Every day, two dozen children, on average, are shot in the U.S. In 2016, 1,637 children and teenagers were killed by guns. Given a public health crisis of this magnitude and lawmakers' maddening refusal to confront it, I am convinced that money is at the root of our nation's inaction.
During the 2016 election cycle, the National Rifle Association (NRA) spent more than $58 million on direct party and campaign contributions, federal lobbying, and political advocacy. Is it this money that's made so many of our lawmakers and their supporters unbelievably tolerant of murder?
And could money be the way we take back our country from the gun lobby and protect our children from this carnage? Each year, U.S. academic organizations spend a considerable sum on meetings and conferences -- tens of millions of dollars at least. These dollars could be the leverage we need.
In 2016, the North Carolina legislature passed HB2 (the "bathroom bill"), which mandated that individuals use public restrooms corresponding to their gender at birth. In response to this action, which clearly targeted the transgender community, corporations backed out of plans to add facilities and jobs in the state. Musicians canceled concerts. The NCAA announced it would pull its championship games from North Carolina. The NAACP initiated a boycott, and some state governments prohibited nonessential travel to North Carolina. The Associated Press estimated the total cost to North Carolina at $3.76 billion. With these losses threatening the state's fiscal strength, the ideologues in the North Carolina legislature abandoned some of their ideals. The next year lawmakers signed a compromise bill that scrapped the bathroom measure.
So I will be talking with leaders of the professional and scientific organizations to which I belong, asking them to consider the strictness of a state's gun-control laws when choosing meeting sites, and to shift their spending to those states whose lawmakers are more interested in protecting their citizens' lives than in protecting their right to bear arms.
This scorecard from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is a good resource for assessing the gun-friendliness of each state. You'll see that Maryland is among seven states with an A or A- grade, indicating that we're tougher on guns than most other states. On the other end of the spectrum are 25 states with an F grade.
If you feel as I do, that with our money we can "weaponize" the issue of gun control (as the NRA has done so effectively), then I invite you to follow my lead. I invite you to contact the organizations to which you belong and demand that they use the power of their purse -- and therefore yours -- to influence state-level policy.
I'm eager to hear your ideas on how we might focus our research and teaching here at UMB to take up this fight against gun violence. But in the meantime, I ask that we wield the economic power we have to demand stricter gun laws and to protect this nation's children, and all of its citizens, from harm.
Jay A. Perman, MD