By Brooke Schultz
Elm Staff Writer
On Feb. 24, “Gun Violence: A Conversation” was held in Decker Theatre. The event was held in conjunction with the Kohl Gallery’s exhibit “Gun Show” by artist David Hess.
The conversation was mediated by Dr. Christine Wade, associate professor of political science and included Josh Horwitz, executive director of Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Dr. Firmin DeBrabander, associate professor of philosophy at MICA, Dr. Melissa Deckman, professor of political science, and David Hess, the artist who created the sculptures of guns currently on display at the Kohl Gallery.
Dr. Wade started the conversation with a few opening remarks about her history with guns, growing up in a household and in a town that was pro-gun before turning the discussion over to Horwitz. Horwitz led the discussion with a statement about how the times are changing. “We’re in a different age than we were,” he said. “I do think that there can be parallel truths in this movement. It can be true that it’s okay that people feel the need to have a firearm for self-defense. At the same time, they feel someone with a violent criminal conviction shouldn’t have a firearm.”
Horwitz also stressed the importance of data. His presentation included visual aids to help the audience understand the information. Compared to other countries’ crime rates, America is average. However, the chances of a person dying in a homicide are higher than other countries. Seventy percent of American homicides are firearm related. In other countries with lower homicide rates, they have almost no gun homicides.
Horwitz concluded by stating that there are ways to limit gun homicides by placing restrictions on people who are committed to mental institutions by court order, those who have violent misdemeanors, and people who have two to three DUI convictions. He also introduced the idea of a gun violence restraining order, which would allow a person to have their gun right suspended until they receive treatment. “I think a lot about policy and what saves lives,” he said.
DeBrabander’s speech approached the idea that gun restrictions have loosened with America after recent mass shootings. He said, “The [pro-gun] movement seems to make gains and rack up legislative victories with every new shooting. This is not the case in other peer democracies around the world.” In instances in England and Australia acts of gun violence have caused the countries to tighten restrictions. However, in America after the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook shootings, there were pressures to put more guns in schools for protection.
DeBrabander discussed the notion that more guns means more freedom. “Americans instinctively want more freedom, not less. The National Rifle Association has done a remarkable job to equate guns with freedom,” he said.
Connecting this back to schools, DeBrabander believes that putting more guns on campuses will limit education. “I don’t imagine that guns in the classroom will embolden students to speak their mind. To the contrary, guns are more likely to make the conversations more careful, more technical, more inclined to make people watch what they say, how they say it and to whom,” he said.
Dr. Deckman discussed gun laws, public opinion, and women. She said, “There is a trend, I think, in this country toward greater acceptability of gun rights opposed to gun control in the US.”
Turning her attention to women and gun control, she talked about a 2012 study about women’s attitudes. Sixty-three percent of women favored stricter gun control laws, whereas 45 percent of men favored stricter laws. Dr. Deckman said, “There has been this inherent gender gap when it comes to attitudes about guns and restrictions. Women tend to be more in favor of gun restrictions, men tend to be less in favor, and that’s pretty consistent over the last 20 years in public opinion research.”
Hess closed the conversation that stemmed from his artwork. He discussed the motivation behind his work. After what happened at Sandy Hook, Hess was prompted to respond as an artist. “[I] wanted to get in the mindset of what it meant to think night and day about making guns, potentially making something destructive. I did that because it really was a learning experience for me, not just in the mechanics about what guns were, but what they represented,” he said.
The panel then opened up to the audience’s questions and were able to give more insight on each discussion. The panel offered a new side of the Kohl Gallery exhibit to examine.