“I grew up around guns. I like guns. But I was there. And something’s got to change.”
The CFA Hall was packed on Wednesday as faculty, students, and Middletown-area residents gathered to hear what three of the nation’s leading experts in gun violence had to say about the United States’ gun violence epidemic. The panel was chaired by Wesleyan’s very own Leah Wright and consisted of professors Saul Cornell, Kristin A. Goss, and Matthew Miller from Fordham, Duke, and Harvard, respectively (you can read up on the participants here). Each professor gave a ten minute lecture on their particular field followed by a Q & A led by NPR’s John Dankosky. I’ll give a summary of each lecture, then some of the important points from the Q & A, and end with a summary of my thoughts on the whole event. Let’s get started.
Professor Cornell: Professor Cornell gave an abbreviated history of the Second Amendment and Second Amendment interpretation. He detailed the current state of affairs, where many people have a “Second Amendment Tourette’s Syndrom.” He explained that our society talks about the amendment like it’s “monolithic and its meaning has never changed,” when in fact it’s been reinterpreted just as much as any other section of the Constitution. Professor Cornell also described the “three myths” of gun control:
- Red Dawn: The idea that the people need the same levels of firepower as the government, and that the Second Amendment affirms the right of the people to take up arms against the government. Not true because the government had lists of gun owners and routinely put down violent rebellion.
- Home Defense: The idea that the Second Amendment was created to protect the right of home defense in the case of intrusion. This right was already established in Common Law, though, and no one writing the Constitution would have any reason to think that Common Law was being threatened.
- Gun Control is Racist: The idea that gun control prevents citizens from defending themselves, and because men and women of color are more at risk from being harmed by guns, gun control is designed to prevent minorities from saving their own lives. This is a myth because the purpose of gun control is to prevent gun fights from happening in the first place.
Professor Miller: Professor Miller has spent years researching rates and statistics gun violence, and he spent his ten minutes helping the audience find sense in the numbers. One crazy number: Americans ages 5-14 are thirteen times more likely to die by firearm homicide than their counterparts in other rich nations. Firearm suicide rates are eight times those of other nations. But for all non-firearm suicides and homicides, as well as robberies and rape, American and Western European countries have about the same rates. And, in the words of Professor Miller himself: “What is notable about the studies is the consistency of the story they tell more generally about [the lethality of] firearms in the home, most of which are presumably legally acquired and possessed, and distributed currently in one out of every three homes.”
Professor Goss: Professor Goss’s lecture discussed gun-related public policy and political history. There’s universal support on both sides of the aisle for universal background checks and better tracking of gun sales, but not much else. In the ’90s there were foundations that helped organize gun control advocates, and now we have Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who’s putting billions of dollars into the cause. Unfortunately, Congress is controlled by special interests; almost 50% get an A-rating or higher from the NRA for their proven history of protecting gun rights. What’s more, gun control advocates lose steam faster after tragic events than gun rights activists.
Noteworthy Quotes and Paraphrases from the Q & A:
Goss: “I don’t think anyone in Washington expects the assault weapons ban to pass, even in the Senate.”
Miller: We’ve moved from a ‘ban-all-guns’ gun control paradigm to a more targeted approach. We’re beginning to apply market-based solutions.
Cornell: “Americans imbue guns with an astonishing range of cultural significance.”
Miller: Similar to what’s happened with drunk driving, letting people make good decisions using good data may be a good solution. There are some very obvious drawbacks to having a gun in the home, and not many clear benefits.
I’ll begin by saying that the solutions to the issue of gun violence are obviously extremely nuanced, and there are many ‘shades of grey’ that have to be taken into consideration. What this also implies is a spectrum, and unfortunately, Wesleyan seems intent on focusing on one end of said spectrum—the liberal end. And this isn’t just the case for gun control; it’s true for many of the issues we, as students, discuss and debate with each other and with our professors. But sometimes I feel our community has the tendency to place ourselves in an “echo chamber” of sorts, where we convince ourselves that the liberal solution is the only solution when, in actuality, it’s really the only solution we’ve been introduced to.
Our school’s conversations about politics are especially prone to this effect. And while I will happily advocate for the liberal solution for many issues (with appropriate data as backup), I would also like to hear what people with “non-traditionally-Wesleyan” opinions have to say, especially with an issue as explosive as gun control. And this event would have been a perfect opportunity to bring in a panelist with a non-liberal perspective. But we didn’t. And we can tell ourselves all we want that this was because the “other side” simply isn’t correct, but in the end, that’s the real problem—we’re just talking to ourselves.