Are We Doing All that We Can Do?

The devastating loss of the lives of 20 innocent children and eight adults in Newtown, Connecticut is one of the most tragic and heartbreaking events in the recent history of our nation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families enduring this senseless and horrific incident. As I listened to the President’s comments and statement that, “We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change,” – I was in total agreement. The issue of gun control is brought to the forefront of this debate, very quickly and rightly so. We must look at every possible way to reduce the likelihood that this type of tragedy will happen again. We must join together in a war of innovation against gun violence.


Call to Action


As a STEM professional, I want to challenge the scientific community to support the reduction in gun violence and mass shootings. This challenge is to analyze every aspect of the mass shootings of recent history and determine what obstacles we are facing as STEM professionals. What can we do to address the issue of violence through research and innovation?


This may seem like a stretch.  It isn’t. Some of the things we can research and assist with include enhanced approaches to background checks that lead to more efficient and thorough evaluation of candidates prior to purchasing guns. We can develop highly sensitive material and pattern recognition sensors that sense and identify weapons when they enter a facility (i.e. movie theaters or schools). These same devices could be programmed to automatically engage protective mechanisms (i.e. locking doors, contacting first responders, etc.)  We can aid in the development of data mining and analysis tools that can be used to profile individuals with suspicious behavior. We can contribute to medical technology that enhances the detection of mental illnesses. The list of other challenges facing this issue is long, which merits the energy of an interdisciplinary team of experts that understand the issues in detail. The engineer, computer scientist, material scientist, mathematician, medical researcher, and physical scientist should be collaborating with social scientists and mental health professionals to get a clear understanding of unnecessary violence. As a team, we can begin the process to develop integrated, practical, and soon-to-market solutions.


Of course, if we’re going to work on solutions – we need someone to support us, buy into the innovation, and fund the development.  I also ask those with the resources and a national platform in the STEM community to accept this challenge. There may be other panels that addressed this challenge, but I do not recall one in recent history. Given the advances in technology, it is prudent to expect innovative and creative responses may be available today that weren’t plausible a mere 10 years ago.  In light of that, perhaps the National Science Foundation, the White House Office of Science and Technology, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Sciences will convene a panel of STEM researchers, practitioners and innovators to study this issue.  This can create a forum for discussion of not just the challenges, but also a path to incremental solutions to combat this national and global need.


Zero Hesitation


However, let us not wait for this to initiate our efforts.  As STEM professionals, we can start a grass-roots campaign by establishing small groups within our professional societies, in our universities, our workplaces, and on social media to begin the dialogue. These groups of like-minded individuals can be a powerful force in understanding the challenges and shaping the process to attain innovative, practical, and timely solutions.


Even if our efforts only lead to minor solutions that become a part of the larger vision, it would be a success for humanity.  The challenge is issued. It is my hope that the STEM community broadly accepts this Call to Action. May the 28 lost souls of this tragic event rest in peace, and may we be continually inspired to innovate and create solutions to address issues of violence with respect to their memories. God Bless the people of Newtown, Connecticut.


With great confidence in our community,

Pamela McCauley