The Ford School of Public Policy hosted a talk Monday to debate different frames of mind surrounding gun control and its effectiveness. Each panelist discussed opposing perspectives on firearm policy as well as the pros and cons of looking at the issue in terms of injury prevention, mental health, education, politics and journalism.
Michael Barr, dean of the Public Policy School, began the event by highlighting the frequency of mass shootings in the news cycle.
Panelist Rebecca Cunningham, professor of emergency medicine, said she views gun policy from a public health perspective – the same way she would look at any other harmful situation.
“Firearms are not really different than any other injury prevention framework, not to be thought of any differently from a vehicle crash to a fire and burn,” Cunningham said. “If we look at the death rates over the past 10 or 15 years, we see that firearms are the second leading cause of death among children and teens in our country … we’re not allowing the children in our country to become 18-year-olds.”
Cunningham claimed guns are never going away and it is important to work together on preventing future deaths and injuries from firearms.
“Guns are going to exist in our culture, cars are going to exist in our culture,” Cunningham said. “And now, together, we have to work towards how those things are going to be more safe and how we’re going to have less children dead.”
The conversation transitioned to discussing the importance of understanding other people’s experiences with guns.
Panelist Jane Coaston, senior politics reporter at Vox, said people often lack an accurate understanding of how others think about firearms — even between different pro-gun groups.
“When you talk to some folks in the conservative movement, how they think about guns is very different from how they think people that own guns in other communities think about guns,” Coaston said. “So their guns are very much their means of self-defense, whereas they’re (other communities) using guns to be terrible and shoot everyone. Whereas if you go and talk to people who are living in Baltimore or elsewhere, they’re interested in owning guns for the same reason as people in Iowa. In the interest in self-defense or because they want to go to a gun range at some point.”
Coaston continued and claimed showing different communities their gun usage and beliefs are not as different as they think is crucial to altering policy.
“We need to make sure communities understand they’re not as dissimilar as they think when we’re talking about these particular issues,” Coaston said.
Coaston then discussed how one’s views on firearms may appear to be an accurate depiction of one’s political beliefs as a whole, but she claimed the two can be entirely separate.
“Polarization and how guns have become a slang way of getting to know someone’s politics when it really shouldn’t be, is something that’s been a really big hindrance to this conversation,” Coaston said.
Cunningham said the main focus of firearm policy going forward should be a deeper understanding of gun accessibility and why families feel the need to own guns.
“Whose responsibility is it in our society to have a 4-year-old not have access to a loaded gun?” Cunningham said. “And why is this young family with a 4-year-old and a pregnant mother feel they need to sleep with a loaded gun under their bed?”
The panelists then discussed how some of the current perspectives surrounding gun policy are not effective.
Panelist Jonathan Metzl, professor of psychiatry and sociology at Vanderbilt University, discussed barriers between activists, academics and politicians.
“I do feel that part of the issues that are happening are tied to the relationship between the activism realm and the legal realm,” Metzl said. “The legal realm is really where those everyday practices are being shaped.”
Coaston ended the discussion by adding that gun safety is only mentioned after a mass shooting, but it should be talked more frequently if real change is going to happen.
“We start talking about gun policy when something terrible has happened, specifically a mass shooting, and we saw that after Parkland and we see it after pretty much every well-known mass shooting,” Coaston said. “That is the time to have a conversation about gun policy when we should be talking about gun policy at all times.”
Public Health student Jane Smith said a priority in gun safety should be really trying to understand why people and communities own guns in order to figure out the next step.
“I think really getting at the root of gun ownership and why are people owning guns, and understanding the cultural aspect behind, it can help us in identifying where to go next,” Smith said.