Free Gun Violence Prevention Course Launches To Educate Young Activists Researchers want new activists to lean on decades of public health research when engaging in work with policymakers and candidates seeking elective office.

Free Gun Violence Prevention Course Launches To Educate Young Activists

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Johns Hopkins University has launched a free online course on preventing gun violence. It's meant for young activists as a way to teach them about the latest research and strategies for advocacy. Critics see it as an effort to spread anti-gun propaganda. NPR's Brakkton Booker reports.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Cassandra Crifasi is deputy director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University.

CASSANDRA CRIFASI: We teach courses in universities and in centers across the U.S. on gun violence, but there is not yet something that is online and freely accessible to folks.

BOOKER: It's called Reducing Gun Violence in America: Evidence for Change. Topics range from community and clinical interventions on preventing gun violence to this lesson on ensuring firearm safety.


CRIFASI: And so always keeping a gun pointed in a safe direction, ejecting the magazine, opening and locking it back to make sure there's nothing in the chamber - and now I know that this gun is safe to handle.

BOOKER: As the name suggests, researchers want to equip students with the best available data on the dangers of guns. Crifasi expects blowback from groups supportive of gun rights. But being a gun owner herself, she hopes to defuse some knee-jerk reactions.

CRIFASI: I am a responsible gun owner, and I don't want people to take my guns away. So like, let's work together to come up with strategies that reduce gun violence but also are respectful of the culture of gun ownership and the Second Amendment.

BOOKER: Crifasi says there should be no argument on whether the U.S. has a gun problem. She points to a statistic from the CDC to justify why no pro-gun groups, like the NRA, were invited to guest lecture.

CRIFASI: We didn't want to have this be a debate of whether there is an issue or not. Right? There is an issue of gun violence. Almost 40,000 people died of a gun related death in 2017. Like, we have a substantial burden in this country.

BOOKER: Eighteen-year-old Ashley Courneya is a college freshman living in Rochester, Minn. She was introduced to guns by her dad at age 7. And Courneya tells me over Skype, it took a few years before sport shooting grew on her.

ASHLEY COURNEYA: Twelve years old, that's when I kind of started to fall in love with the shotgun stuff and started hunting.

BOOKER: Courneya is in the target demo Hopkins researchers want for the course, young and relates to the gun safety movement kicked off after last year's deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla. But, she adds, knowing more conservative gun views won't be heard makes her less eager to sign up.

COURNEYA: I think I would still be interested in taking the course to just see what it was about even though it doesn't have the conservative aspect. But I think when you're doing something that is meant to inform people, like, you need to account for both sides.

BOOKER: Not to mention carving out time for another class - one she may not even get credit for - is a bit of a tough sell.

GAYLE CHRISTENSEN: That's a challenge we're all facing if we're trying to teach in regular classrooms or - and even more of a challenge online.

BOOKER: That's Gayle Christensen of the University of Washington. She's done research on massive open online courses, or MOOCs, like the one Hopkins is launching. Christensen says the MOOC space is crowded, but this course has potential to break through.

CHRISTENSEN: So there could be, you know, sort of different measures of success for this.

BOOKER: One, if students make it through the more than 600 minutes of lectures and related coursework to earn a certificate or, two, even if they don't finish, students share what they've learned on social media.

CHRISTENSEN: And that will then perhaps have other students or young people engaged with the material that wouldn't have thought about engaging with it otherwise.

BOOKER: The gun violence prevention course went live today, and Hopkins officials hope 20,000 students a year sign up.

Brakkton Booker, NPR News.


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