In 1977, Otto Meisenheimer was killed in a random act of violence at an arcade in Mount Prospect, Illinois. He was killed by a local teen at point-blank range with a .22-caliber revolver that the teen acquired. The teen also injured three other customers and a manager.
Forty-five years later, the Meisenheimer family of Indiana has committed a significant gift to the IU School of Public Health to establish the Otto Meisenheimer Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence, according to an IU News article.
Jon Macy, the interim assistant dean for graduate education and associate professor at the school, said that the fully-realized gift will enable IU to become a national leader in gun violence prevention. Once the center is established, the school will look to invest resources to maximize support for Hoosiers and beyond, Macy said.
“If we could understand the reasons why people have guns, how people are using them, why they’re using them — we could prevent a lot of unnecessary illness, injuries, suffering and death from guns,” Macy said.
Macy said that the center is meant to kickstart gun violence research activities.
“For decades, research on gun violence prevention has been really lacking,” Macy said.
Paul Helmke, an IU professor at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and former president and CEO of the Brady Center/Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that he is excited about the Meisenheimer family’s gift since there are few places in the country that conduct gun violence research.
“With gun violence, all we do is say, ‘Oh what a horrible thing. Our hearts and prayers are there.’ And then we do nothing,” Helmke said. “When you see as many people dying daily in this country from gun violence and being injured daily in this country from gun violence, we ought to do something about it.”
Helmke said private gifts to study gun violence are significant for creating change, because research on gun violence at the federal level is limited. He referred to the Dickey Amendment, the Tiahrt Amendments and the Protection for Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. All pieces of legislation create obstacles for those in gun violence research in terms of receiving funding and reporting liabilities when crimes have been committed respectively.
Helmke said the case for change is difficult without having research on sources of weapons or the ability to sue gun manufacturers and gun dealers.
“It’s hard to make the case for change: that background checks make a difference, that regulating gun shows better make a difference, that banning certain kind of weapons or certain kind of ammunition magazines makes a difference unless you can have research,” Helmke said.
Bob Nolan, the executive director of development at the school, said they are working to appoint faculty at the center.
“We are excited about the possibility of having faculty who will be dedicated to doing research on gun violence: both homicide and suicide,” Nolan said. “I think it’s something that could be very impactful not only for the university but for the state of Indiana and for the country as a public health issue.”
The school is starting to talk to foundations, philanthropists and other investors interested in researching gun violence prevention.
Nolan said that the school is thankful for the Meisenheimer family’s commitment to the issue of gun violence.
“It’s something that’s affected them personally, and it’s something that they’re very passionate about and we’re grateful for them stepping up to provide this commitment of resources for us to do important work in this area,” Nolan said.
He said people can gift to the Otto Meisenheimer Prevention of Gun Violence Research Fund. The school is constantly looking for ways to remain active in the community.