MOUNT VERNON — A panel convened Monday evening to present and discuss differing points of view on gun violence did illustrate one thing: There is a deep and passionate divide on any issue framed in terms of guns.
It began simply enough with each panelist discussing a different aspect of the wide-ranging issue.
Former State Rep. Thom Collier talked about the long debate in the legislature when the concealed carry gun law was introduced and finally passed. He noted that the division over the issue in the General Assembly was more of an urban-rural divide than a Democrat-Republican or liberal-conservative division.
Toby Hoover, director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, agreed with that assessment of the divide, but that would be one of the few agreements during the evening.
She went on to cite statistics that she said showed the presence of guns makes situations more dangerous and that concealed carry did not make society safer.
Capt. David Shaffer brought the issue closer to home, noting that officers most commonly deal with firearms in two situations: They are stolen in burglaries or used in suicides.
He did reply to the issue of shootings in schools, which had been mentioned by Hoover, by citing the work of David Grossman, who said in his study of the situations that had occurred that the schools were not adequately prepared to deal with the threat and that school security guards should be armed and trained.
Mary Hendrickson came prepared with a lot of statistics on how many times guns are used in domestic violence situations as well as figures on how many of the women being abused, for example, had sought help from domestic violence shelter or had previously reported abuse.
No one followed up with any questions about what some of the statistics meant.
Rick Schlegel similarly talked about the role alcohol and drug abuse plays in cases of gun violence, and claimed the culture of violence, fed by television, video games and movies abet violence by teaching kids that such violence is all right. He argued that communities need to strengthen policies limiting the interaction of controlled substances and firearms.
The Rev. R. Keith Stuart, pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ, spoke only briefly, noting that persons of faith are divided over Second Amendment issues, with one side supporting regulation and the other supporting gun rights as a protection against evil.
He referred to the “theology of firearms,” as “guns have become our latest idols.”
His perspective: That they should leave God out of the issue and specifically citing as offensive the practice of a manufacturer of rifle sights inscribing Bible verses on ones being sent to soldiers in the Middle East.
Although a few members of the audience touched on what Schlegel had brought up and said the biggest problem was that children have not been taught proper respect for guns, the question period quickly descended to gun advocates deriding Hoover’s position as an attack on gun rights and Hoover insisting the issue had nothing to do with anyone giving up any rights to bear arms.
When confrontation begins, discussion stops. Possibly the best illustration was when a member of the audience, who did not identify himself, badgered Stuart about a statement he had made about telling a visitor that guns shouldn’t be brought into church. The questioner asked Stuart, “Are you saying you wouldn’t trust a law-abiding member of your congregation to carry his gun into church?” When Stuart tried to explain, the man repeated the question, not letting Stuart complete his answer.
Stuart later summed up the evening by commenting that issues of trust were clearly on display, “with other issues involved.”