By Deanna DavisonRICHMOND – Addressing gun violence in America often leaves gun control supporters and Second Amendment advocates at an impasse, a panel of experts said at a town hall-style discussion of the issue at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Capital News Service
Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t come with an operating manual; there is no guide to how amendments should be interpreted (said John Aughenbaugh, a VCU political science professor). Reasonable regulations are allowed by the government, but it gets complicated: What is a reasonable c?
Aughenbaugh was joined on Friday’s panel by Lori Haas, Virginia’s director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; Jessica Smith, former public safety initiatives coordinator at the Office of the Attorney General and a doctoral candidate at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs; and Philip Van Cleave, President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
About 50 students and others attended the event, which was organized by the VCU Student Media Center and The Commonwealth Times, the student newspaper. The title of the discussion was “Beyond the Politics.”
The idea behind the panel was that even in times of harsh partisan discourse, citizens with differing perspectives should be able to have civil discussions about public issues and work toward solutions. Panel moderator Fadel Allassan, the paper’s managing editor, reminded attendees that although gun violence is a tense and emotional issue, this was not a debate; it was a respectful discussion.
Panelists agreed that discussing gun violence, and particularly mass shootings, can get muddied because of the terminology involved.
Haas said that while some public health experts may disagree, the FBI defines a “mass shooting” as four or more people killed in a single incident.
Part of what makes implementing public policy on mass shootings so difficult and unique to the U.S. is the Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.
I think it’s a part of the American identity that being able to own and carry guns is a right we have (Smith said).
But people often disagree on what exactly that means and how it should be regulated.
Van Cleave said gun control regulations are often unfair and give the government too much power. He said while he worries about guns ending up in the wrong hands, he believes individuals should be able to defend themselves, their families and their homes.
I was a deputy sheriff for six years (Van Cleave said). I was able to see the importance of people protecting themselves before we could arrive.
When we can identify people at risk of violent behavior and we do nothing to disarm them, I think we are culpable (said Haas, whose daughter survived the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007). I don’t think it’s about legal gun ownership at all.
Panelists agreed on the struggles of moving forward on addressing gun violence without a clear universal goal, which makes it even more difficult to reach consensus on what solutions look like.
Smith said it is important for people on all sides of the issue to keep it in perspective.
We are a system based on incrementalism (Smith said). If we pass regulations, that doesn’t mean everyone’s guns will be taken away, but it also doesn’t mean all gun violence will stop.
A complete and utter victory is not going to happen (Aughenbaugh said). Policy-making requires compromise. Listen to what the other side wants. We’re not going to have a conversation if we’re not willing to listen to each other.