Panelists on opposing sides come together to discuss gun violence debate

From left to right: Liz Banach, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Boris Lushniak, Stephen Gutowski and Deborah Rey engaged in debate regarding ways to prevent gun violence. Photo by Samantha Caruso.

By Samantha Caruso

At a discussion centered around discussing solutions for preventing gun violence, panelists concluded that lessening the publicity given to gunmen in mass shootings would be a good place to start.

Maryland Discourse hosted “Finding Solutions: Preventing Gun Violence,” April 26 in Jimenez Hall.

The five panelists — Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s); Del. Deborah Rey (R-St. Mary’s);  Liz Banach, executive director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence; Dean Boris Lushniak, UMD’s public health school dean; and Stephen Gutowski, a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon — held varying viewpoints surrounding the gun control debate.

Gutowski said the lack of knowledge of proper gun terminology among the general public is problematic.

“People tend to use terminology incorrectly very often,” he said. “It’s important to know the difference between these things, because when you’re advocating for policy, you have to know if you want to ban tens of millions of guns, or hundreds of millions of guns. That could be the difference between wanting to ban assault weapons or wanting to ban all semi-automatic weapons.”

Rey agreed, adding that while many advocate for stricter gun control, what they don’t always realize is that some of their demands have already been met by the Firearm Safety Act of 2013.

“I think it’s interesting today that a lot of people say, ‘We need gun control, we need control,’” Rey said. “But they don’t know the law. They don’t know what’s already been prohibited. They just want to go further and further, instead of taking the time to read the law and understand what it says.”

Lushniak, who served as the U.S. Deputy Surgeon General from November 2010 to September 2015, was asked how, if at all, gun violence should be discussed in tandem with mental health.

In response, he posed a question: “Is it the gun that kills, or the person that kills? In essence, it’s ‘yes.'”

“It’s a person that’s operating that gun. If I’ve gotten to that point of despair, if I’ve gotten to that point in depression, then yes, the gun is a tool,” Lushniak said. “Mental health is an issue that’s related to this. We can’t necessarily take both and treat them separately. We have to be able to talk about both subjects.”

Setting their differing backgrounds and political party affiliations aside, the panel unanimously agreed that the media often pays too much attention to the names and backgrounds of murderers when covering tragedies such as mass shootings.

“When these things happen, the media circus is often focused on the murderer,” said Gutowski, “when it should be focused, perhaps, on the victims or the hero of the tragedy.”

Lushniak agreed.

“We try to get into the idea of motivation,” Lushniak said. “We’ve seen political motivation, what we’d call extremism in political views; it could be psychological issues. For every tragic event that hits the press, and whether we’re denoting the perpetrator or the victims, glorifying or not glorifying someone’s getting killed, at the end of the day that makes a little blurb in the paper.”

Banach said she supports the First Amendment and the media’s right to report those names, despite agreeing with the argument that the names of murderers receive too much media attention. She furthered this point by stressing the importance of discussing the issue of violence itself.

“I think it’s significant that we talk about what the issue of violence really is,” she said. “That we talk about young black men and women, about suicides, because those issues apply to the issue of violence and they’re not part of the national discourse.”

Gideon Epstein, director of events for Maryland Discourse and a sophomore government and politics major, planned this event with the Florida Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in mind.

“After the Parkland shooting, we saw a lot of students across the country, of all ages, talking about gun violence,” Epstein said. “I thought it would be a really good idea to raise awareness around the issue.”

Epstein appreciated that each panelist presented his or her own unique perspective on the issue.

“We only hear the far left or the far right,” he said. “And with this panel, we had a really diverse set of ideas and I think that’s really important. I think at the end of the day, every student here learned a new perspective that they hadn’t previously considered, and that’s pretty exciting.”

Amanda Bachman, a sophomore marketing and English double major, also enjoying viewing the issue of preventing gun violence from all sides.

“It’s really important that people see all sides of this issue,” she said. “That’s why I really liked that they brought in policymakers and scholars that represented a bunch of different sides.”

Maryland Discourse President Ireland Lesley,  a sophomore government and politics major, discussed why the panel focused on gun violence rather gun control — a topic more commonly discussed in the public sphere.

“Gun control is always in the media, especially because of all the mass shootings that are heavily reported on, so we wanted to take it back to gun violence, which is a little different,” she said. “That kind of encompasses the whole debate a little bit more.”


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