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Family Impacted By Gun Violence Starts Research Foundation


Here is a question worth asking. After yet another mass shooting, are we learning anything?


The question comes to mind after the San Bernardino shooting. We reached out to a man with a connection to one of the shootings that came before. He is Jeremy Richman. His daughter, Avielle, was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting three years ago in Newtown, Conn. She was 6. After the shootings, Richman founded a research organization in her name to study the links between violence and mental health.

JEREMY RICHMAN: As you can imagine, when a tragedy touches you as brutally as this is, you are just infinitely heartbroken, and it's hard to even find the motivation to get out of bed. And my wife, Jennifer, and I just had to do something to go on, and being - we're both scientists. I'm a neuroscientist by training, and she's a microbiologist. So we started the Avielle Foundation with a mission of preventing violence and building compassion through brain research, community engagement and education.

INSKEEP: This makes you a little different than some other people who have come out of shootings like this and focused on guns.

RICHMAN: Absolutely. When you have these sensationalized acts of mass violence, you have sort of three responses. It's all about guns, it's all about safety, or it's all about what they usually refer to as mental illness. And there's so much mysticism associated with it that we really thought we could create some change here. And the first thing we need to look at is the fact that people need to understand the brain is just another organ. Like the heart, the lung, the liver, the kidneys, it can be healthy, and it could be unhealthy. But unlike the other organs, we know so much less about brain science than any other science. And so as a result of the unknown and the invisible nature of things that are mental, we fear it, and it comes with a lot of stigma and baggage, and people don't advocate for themselves or for their loved ones as a result.

INSKEEP: Well, have you found any clues that would link some particular condition of the brain with gun violence?

RICHMAN: The fact is there's a lot of risk factors. There is nutritional factors. There's a lot of risk factors that could be, say, physical in nature, traumatic brain injury, for example. There is substance abuse problems. We have to recognize that, of course, all of our behavior comes from our brain. So just like any organ can be healthy or unhealthy, when there's risk factors that lead to malfunction of certain circuits or regions of the brain, that'll lead to bad behavior. You can look to actively pursue protective factors that counter that.

INSKEEP: So given what you've learned in the approach you've taken to this, what did you think about when you heard about the San Bernardino shooting?

RICHMAN: Yeah, you know, this is the hard part. I mean, our hearts are infinitely broken. But honestly, we're at a point where we're sick of expressing our heartbreak. It's really daunting when we recently had a new child, and we're bringing her up into a world that we want her to see the beauty in and to see that there's a lot of hope. And we really need people to engage. We have to actively pursue solutions to preventing violence. And yes, it is preventable. It's a matter of chemistry and not character.

INSKEEP: Jeremy Richman, who has founded the Avielle Foundation, thanks very much.

RICHMAN: Thanks, Steve. I really appreciate your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.