Students at Shippensburg University and residents of Franklin and Cumberland counties had the opportunity to air their views on gun control and gun violence at a panel discussion Wednesday night in Memorial Auditorium.
Nearly 200 SU students and residents from communities such as Shippensburg, Chambersburg, Mercersburg and Carlisle, heard the views of several panelists including a government official, a political activist, a representative of the media, an expert on Pennsylvania gun laws and a professor of sociology. Also, the discussion was moderated by a constitutional scholar.
“Rights and Restrictions: A Discussion on Gun Control,” was hosted by The Slate, SU’s student-run newspaper. The program was held as an opportunity to educate students and members of the public on the controversial issues.
Panel members discussed topics surrounding the issues of gun rights and gun violence, as well as took questions and heard commentary from audience members.
The panel consisted of Bruce Hockersmith, mayor of Shippensburg; Jim Taylor, co-founder and chairman of America’s PAC; Mick Kelly, supervisor and investigator in the Firearms Division of the Pennsylvania State Police; Samantha Cossick, staff reporter for Chambersburg’s Public Opinion; and Chad Kimmel, associate professor of sociology at SU. The panel was moderated by Steven Lichtman, professor of political science at SU.
Topics pertaining to the issues of gun rights and gun violence included the role of the media, the role of mental illness, the issue of semi-automatic weapons, cultural influences, current laws and the constitutional aspect.
The panel generated a forward-moving conversation, and the different viewpoints gave audience members multiple perspectives on the issues. The atmosphere was civil, even at times of disagreement.
Hockersmith provided his personal opinions that were based on his experiences as mayor, and noted that he is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, but also acknowledged the difficulty of determining what guns to regulate and how.
“They (other mayors) certainly feel that something reasonable and sensible should be done to ensure that guns don’t get into the hands of the wrong people,” Hockersmith said.
Taylor offered a strong pro-gun stance and cast gun ownership as a protection for citizens against tyranny.
“The founding fathers wanted an armed citizenry,” Taylor said.
Kelly, who works closely with gun laws in Pennsylvania, offered numerous statistics, explained the process of obtaining firearms and explained what kinds of things restrict people from owning firearms.
Cossick talked about media-related issues like the role of news media in acts of mass gun violence. She described covering such cases as a “double-edge sword,” where the media want to report the stories but not glorify criminals.
“More information and more perspectives are better. It leads to better, more well-rounded decisions by leaders,” Cossick said.
Kimmel offered sociological insights on gun issues in the U.S. and explained that individualizing violent cases is misleading, as it is a societal problem.
Lichtman managed to keep the discussion on-track and productive. At one point, when the constitution became a big topic, Lichtman took a moment to examine and explain the uniqueness of the Second Amendment and cases surrounding it.
After the panel’s main discussion, residents and students approached microphones to speak their views on the topic and pose questions to panelists. Most of them came from a pro-gun standpoint and generated applause from much of the rest of the audience.
While the panelists did offer differing viewpoints, they all agreed that it was an important conversation to have, and one that must continue to be had.