Wednesday, The Office of University of Life continued their speaker series on inequality and justice, “Awakening Our Democracy.” The panel, titled “One Nation Under Guns?” featured a variety of speakers across occupations and the political spectrum. Talking about gun control is hard; doing a write up for five speakers with different opinions is harder. Staff Writer Andrew Wang presents the arguments. Feel free to discuss in the comments!
On Wednesday, more than a year since 17 students and staff were killed in Parkland, a bill passed. The Democratic-controlled House approved the first major legislation on gun control in over 20 years: universal background checks. 190 voted no; 240 said yes. But surely, the debate on gun control doesn’t just begin and end with a vote in Washington. What about the Second Amendment? The First? The NRA? Race? What about corporate America? Why should we care at all? And the answer to each of these is a five letter word: panel.
Tiffany Hsu: Breaking news reporter for The New York Times; panel moderator.
Nick Suplina: Managing director for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety.
Sonali Rajan: Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium member and Teachers College assistant professor.
Cabot Phillips: Conservative political activist and Fox News Contributor; media director for Campus Reform.
Robert Fullilove: Mailman School of Public Health professor of sociomedical sciences, and Associate Dean for community and minority affairs.
Why talk about gun control, and why now?
Suplina: “It is not a new issue. It is not just the time between horrific acts of mass violence that gun violence exerts a toll on the country.”
Rajan: “40,000 Americans are killed with guns every year. 100,000 are injured. Far too many more are exposed…why haven’t we addressed this sooner?”
Phillips: “To put aside misconceptions that both sides have by having important conversations…I think that’s beneficial to us as Americans.”
Fullilove: “Our identity as a nation is fundamentally caught up in the organization of militias and the rights of Americans.”
What do we make of our polarized discourse?
Rajan: “The research is not patchy on what the solutions to gun violence can and should look like…when we use the word ‘patchy,’ it’s not really in terms of what we know; it’s in terms of where the resources and funding have been.”
Phillips: “One reason people are so afraid to have conversations like this is because of the fear of being labelled as a traitor to your own cause if you suggest any kind of compromise. I’m a conservative; I support more universal background steps…and I have friends in the Second Amendment community that call me a sell-out…many Republicans actually agree that background checks would help gun violence and be a positive thing.”
Fullilove [Speaking on being in Washington Heights in 1990]: “You’d think that in a neighborhood with high rates of gun-related homicides, everybody would be against guns. Not really. The debate is even more complicated within these communities…folks in Washington Heights used to worry as much about the police and their use of guns…as they were about the folk that the police were supposedly pitting themselves against: the folk who were dealing cocaine and keeping guns in their presence to defend what they had.”
Suplina: “Misinformation does polarize the debate…in polling, well over 90% of Americans and 80% of gun owners all think [federal background checks]…are the rule of the land. But they don’t know, for instance, if I’m not selling as a gun dealer but as a private seller, that background check doesn’t occur.”
What about federal vs. state/local policy?
Rajan: “We know legislation works at the federal level…guns cross state lines…Chicago is very close to Indiana; Illinois has relatively stricter gun laws…Indiana does not.”
Suplina: “We are a nation of states. The fight is at the state level…[but] not because of the unique cultures…New York is a big state, New York City is not Buffalo.”
What about lessons from around the globe?
Phillips: “One reason it’s difficult is gun culture is ingrained more deeply in the United States than most other countries. In Australia, when the gun buyback happened in 1996, only a third of gun owners turned over their guns to the government. When we look at the gun data, people like to bring up that after the gun buyback, there was a decrease in gun violence…[but] gun violence rates were already decreasing pretty consistently throughout the first half of that decade.”
Is legislation the only way?
Fullilove [speaking about his students’ research]: “Sales weren’t an issue…if you knew somebody who had a gun, you could always find a way to get one. Their idea is that we should be using technological advances to help us figure out where guns are…It doesn’t require complex legislation, and it doesn’t require that we have the debates we’ve been talking about so far about the rights of gun owners versus the rights of people who don’t have them…some of the issues might disappear. We needed to have done this at the turn of the century.”
Rajan: “The solution is not purely about one particular law over another, but that if we treated it like any other public health issue, we would be looking at all the ways in which we want to prevent violence…looking at how we’re supporting schools…are there truly comprehensive mental health resources…look at how we address issues of obesity and drinking and driving…why are we politicizing policy? We don’t do that on [most] other health issues.”
What about the Second Amendment?
Rajan: “There’s a myth that those of us for gun reform are anti-Second Amendment…I don’t think the solution lies in repealing the Second Amendment. I think the solution lies in a combination of common sense gun reform, which includes universal background checks, waiting periods, something like the federal assault weapons ban…none of those legislative efforts require banning the Second Amendment. It goes back to the idea of how do we coexist with firearms safely, and honestly, through common sense.”
What about corporate America’s involvement?
Suplina: “Corporations know where their customers are…they’re listening. 58% of Americans either personally or know somebody who has experienced gun violence. Your employees have been impacted by gun violence…[Corporations] ultimately are making apolitical decisions and decisions that reflect what they think they need to do to serve the communities that they serve.”
Phillips: “I disagree to a certain extent. I think that the role of corporations ultimately is to make money…Michael Jordan has a famous saying about why he never talks politics: ‘Republicans buy shoes, too.’ A lot of corporations are alienating a large part of their base when they make measures like this. I don’t have a problem of it from a morality standpoint…but I don’t necessarily think it’s the wisest thing to do.”
Fullilove: “They should be involved. If somebody [working] in a Walmart who’s got a beef with everybody else starts shooting, it becomes something that’s not just about customers; it’s also about a place of business.”
What about the discriminatory effects of policy?
Fullilove: “We are already aware of racial profiling in American life. The whole notion that walking or talking while Black can now suddenly involve you with an encounter with the police makes it very, very clear that any kind of solution that has the capacity to discriminate…it’s something you have to be really, really careful about…we’re certainly gonna see a lot more of the problems we’re having with the community and the police in too many areas of the fabric of the urban United States.”
What about the recent legislative interest in concealed carry?
Phillips: “As a concealed carry permit holder, when I go to different states, there’s very little reciprocity. But when it comes down to someone in your class saying ‘I know someone in my class could have a firearm,’ I don’t think that’s reason for alarm necessarily. I actually carried while I was in college and no one knew that I was, and I think that concealed carry permit holders are the last people we should worry about having firearms, as if it’s some wild west situation. They are less likely, statistically speaking, to use their firearm for crimes.”
Suplina: “[New York City] gets tens of millions of visitors every year; the folks here locally have said that ‘we don’t think carrying here is part of our culture.’ It’s a terrifying notion to major city police departments to have to now pick between the folks who are carrying from a state that has a permit-less carrying system versus the person who’s posing a threat to the community or an officer. [The police chiefs] hate the idea, they’ve signed letters, they’ve lobbied…cities and states should have a right to determine where their threshold is within the bounds of the law.”
Phillips [disagreeing]: “In the NYPD. Because in general, there are plenty of police chiefs that have no problem with concealed carry permits.”
Any last words? Zingers only.
Suplina: “These are modest steps we’re asking to stop downstream problems that are socially completely unacceptable. And I think most gun owners are there.”
Rajan: “We know that the presence of firearms is directly related to increased firearm violence…the challenge of saying more guns does not equal less violence…is simply not true, and we have to be very, very clear when we say ‘What is the purpose of these kinds of legislative bills?’ Do we value that over the right to ride the subway safely? I don’t think so. I think the right to human life has to first and foremost be prioritized.”
Phillips: “But they’re not mutually exclusive, the right to life and the right to self-defense. The right to self-defense does defend the right to life. When we say more guns equals more gun violence, since 1993, there’s been over a 50% increase in gun ownership rates in the United States, and gun violence rates have dropped in that time.”
I said ZINGERS only!
Fullilove: “You take away the infectious agent, the epidemic disappears.”