Pioneer Talks: Politics and public safety

Panelists discussed the current issue of gun regulations.

Elizabeth Kaiser graphic

Elizabeth Kaiser graphic

Gun control is an extremely controversial topic in today’s political climate. This year’s second session of Pioneer Talks, The Future of Gun Control, was led by a panel featuring speakers: Kathryn Bartels, 2018 criminal justice and history major, University of Wisconsin-Platteville; Theron Parsons, department of psychology, UW-Platteville; Patrick Solar, department of criminal justice, UW-Platteville; and Travis Nelson, department of political science, UW-Platteville. The panelists answered questions and held a conversation about current gun policy, the scope of the gun violence problem in America and the culture of gun violence.  

Gun control can also be called gun regulation, which the panelists agreed is a more accurate term.

 “The words that we use for this kind of thing matters,” Nelson said. 

Nelson also read the 2nd Amendment out loud to give the audience some perspective. He explained that the interpretation has changed a lot over time, and it has been a long debate as to whether it is a collective or an individual right.

Nelson cited the District of Columbia v. Heller trial in 2008 as a landmark case for this debate. This particular trial founded the individual’s right to a fire arm under the Second Amendment.

“Even the Supreme Court case recognized that it was complicated and that there was a lot to interpret,” Nelson said. 

Bartels discussed the unique gun culture in the United States and how it makes this country different from others. The right to own a gun has become tied into the American ideal of individual freedom. Because of this perception, our policy on gun ownership is a lot different from other nations, as is our response to gun violence.  

Solar shared that the number of people with guns has significantly changed since the 90s. States make the majority of gun laws concerning licensing and the actual weapon. Therefore, state laws regulate guns. He brought up may states versus shall states. Shall states guarantee that you will get a gun, while may states reserve the right to refuse the sale. Ultimately, it is each state’s decision.  

At this point an audience member asked if it might be more suitable to change the term “gun violence” to “human violence.” The panelists were very concerned with the specificity that this term would take away. Parsons raised that this sentiment supported the common argument: guns don’t kill people, people do.  

“Guns are created for one purpose,” Parsons said.

Parsons also expressed that the mental illness best correlated with gun violence is “angry guy.” 

He commented that young white men are obtaining information from social media telling them that power is being taken away from them, to which they often respond by using the threat of guns. 

Solar didn’t necessarily like the mentioning of race. Bartels, on the other hand, expressed her support of Parson’s statement, especially in the scenario of a mass shooter. 

At this point, Nelson broke the tension by sharing his opinion on the most important thing to remember when debating this topic.

“We agree on a lot more than we think we do when it comes to this issue,” Nelson said.

Solar shifted the conversation with the question—what are the reasonable restrictions? He thinks that the taboo side of the line is weapons of mass carnage. This line seems to become blurry, however, when it comes to semi-automatic weapons.  

“If we are to further regulate, it’s incumbent on the government to prove that it will make us safer before they can regulate the individual right of gun ownership,” Solar said. 

Solar believes that we don’t know what we don’t know when it comes to whether or not gun regulations in certain cities, such as Chicago, are even helping. He believes that the government should just keep laws that keep people safe. Parsons agreed with this sentiment, expressing that more guns on the street often correlate to more violence. 

Nelson took this opportunity to address the argument. 

“If we make gun laws, the criminals will just ignore them,” Nelson said. 

He pointed out that this argument deems any law-making unproductive.  What stops anyone from taking it the next step further—why have any laws if criminals are just going to ignore them? He said that this is an unsuccessful argument.  

Solar took the next question on whether concealed carry actually helps to protect the general public. He said that the benefit of concealed carry is simply the comfort and feeling of security that a firearm provides the carrier. 

“Law abiding, competent people who are willing to go through the same training as a police officer should be allowed to have a concealed carry,” Solar said. 

To this, Parsons raised the question—what is the risk of having a second shooter in an already unsafe situation? Bartels shared his concern, pointing out that guns can escalate certain situations.  

Another question on increasing security in schools was raised to Solar, who responded with a simple answer – target hardening. Target hardening is the first step of three in attacking the crime triangle. In law enforcement, there are three legs to any potential crime; the suitable target, motivated offender and absence of capable guardianship. Police officers attack the crime triangle by taking out one leg – in this case, the suitable target. Solar believed that the best way to protect schools is to make the target less desirable.  

Bartels took a definitive stand against arming teachers, and Solar took the stance that teachers should not be pushed to have guns. 

In closing, each panelist shared their overall thoughts on the topic of gun control. Nelson reemphasized his belief that we agree on a lot more than we know. He urged that we be empathetic while discussing the topic with others. Bartels said that you don’t have to pick a side, just educate yourself, and don’t push gun ownership on people who do not want it. Solar pushed that we judge source credibility and look for the facts rather than the emotions. Parsons closed by saying that we need a conversation shift—we need to ask how we can make gun ownership safer.