The Association of American Universities issued a statement Thursday calling on President Obama and members of Congress to take quick federal action to address gun violence in the United States, while scolding the mass media for an "addiction to violence."
The AAU, which comprises 60 leading U.S. and two Canadian research universities, pointed to the Newtown, Conn., massacre as a tipping point in the push for the federal government to reform gun laws.
"Our schools and campuses have unfortunately become centers of national mourning, from Columbine to Virginia Tech, and now Newtown," the AAU statement reads. "As leaders of public and private universities, we strongly urge the President and the Congress to seek effective means of mitigating this scourge of American life. We believe that strong, meaningful action needs to occur in three domains: gun control, care of the mentally ill, and the culture of our contemporary media."
Mental illness must be addressed, the AAU said, noting gun violence "is a complex problem." The organization went on to affirm its fundamental commitment to freedom of speech, but said the media is partly to blame because of its "addiction to violence." The AAU also essentially called for a ban of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
"Many high-powered weapons that have no legitimate use for hunting, marksmanship, or self-defense continue to be bought and sold, as are the high-volume magazines often used by mass murderers," the AAU said. "Increasingly, universities find themselves prevented by state laws from keeping guns off campus and out of the hands of students."
The AAU's statement was issued by the organization's executive committee, which features the presidents and chancellors of the University of Texas at Austin, Cornell University, Tulane University, University of California-Berkeley, The Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Michigan and AAU President Hunter R. Rawlings III.
The AAU joins a group of more than 300 college presidents, mostly of private colleges, who signed on to an open letter demanding Congress pass stricter gun-control laws.
Although the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown killed 20 children and 6 adults, it still falls behind the 2007 rampage at Virginia Tech University as the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. On April 16, 2007, at the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., a 23-year-old student shot 32 people dead and wounded 17 others before killing himself.
Obama has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a taskforce that will propose new gun control legislation early in the president's second term. Some members of Congress have already introduced new gun-control laws.
"The AAU applauds the Administration’s call to identify means of reducing America’s culture of violence," the organization added. "We implore the Congress to work with the Administration to apply honest and open scrutiny to identifying and implementing meaningful, consequential actions now, while the nation is focused on Newtown’s searing tragedy."