University News

At Janus panel, scholars debate solution to gun violence

Panelists clashed over whether reducing the number of handguns is an effective way to lower crime rates

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 15, 2013

There is no simple solution to the problem of gun-related violence in the United States, three panelists said in “Guns in America: Reducing Crime,” the first in a three-part Janus Forum miniseries.

Though the panelists agreed on the absence of an easy solution, they clashed in their evaluations of gun control and other preventative measures.

“This was one of (the) more exciting events we’ve had in a while because it was one of the few events where you could very visibly see a clash,” said Raaj Parekh ’13, co-executive director of the Janus Forum.

The panel featured experts from several disciplines, including law professor at Roger Williams University Carl Bogus, psychiatry professor at the University of Louisville Steven Lippmann, and author of “More Guns, Less Crime” John Lott. The event, which drew about 60 people to MacMillan 117, was cosponsored by the Office of the President and the Political Theory Project in response to the Sandy Hook shootings last December.

Bogus advocated handgun control as a means of curbing gun-related violence. “As far as I know, reducing the number of handguns in circulation is the only form of gun control that works,” Bogus said.

Bogus said the Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller — in which the court held the Second Amendment gives an individual the right to possess a firearm for legal purposes — poses a major obstacle to handgun control. “The Supreme Court may have made any form of gun control that works unconstitutional,” he said.

Lott challenged Bogus’ support of handgun control, arguing that banning guns does not have a significant statistical effect on lowering crime.

“(Bogus) says handgun control would be the most effective way to control gun crime,” Lott said. “But when you pass a ban, it’s the law-abiding good citizens who obey and the criminals who don’t.”

Lott cited the District of Columbia and Chicago as examples of cities that banned handguns until 2008 but did not experience significant reductions in crimes such as homicide.

Instead of handgun control, Lott identified law enforcement as “the single most important factor for preventing violent crime.”

Lippmann added another dimension to the discussion by highlighting the frequent use of guns for suicide and domestic violence, not crime against other people. “The irony is … firearms are frequently obtained for family protection but are often used for suicide,” Lippmann said. “Americans, while seeking security, are shooting themselves and their families in their own homes.”

Lippmann upheld more jobs, education and “community policing” as means of eradicating gun-related violence.

President Christina Paxson, who emailed the community after Sandy Hook calling for a campus-wide dialogue about gun violence, said at the event that she appreciated the speakers’ use of panel data, given her own background in economics.

In a question and answer session following the panel, Ian Reardon ’16 asked Lott whether prevention of carrying concealed weapons would deter mass shooters.

Mass shooters’ primary goal is media attention, Lott said. Preventing people from carrying concealed weapons also hinders them from helping victims of shootings, he said, adding that if people could respond to the shooter, they could minimize harm and therefore decrease the amount of coverage the media would devote to the event.

Sam Gilman ’15, steering committee director of the Janus Forum, said afterward that he appreciated the spirit of challenging ideas that pervaded the entire event. “It’s nice to bring clashing perspectives to campus,” he said, adding the contention meshed with the Janus Forum’s mission of “No idea goes unchallenged.”

“Guns are definitely a polarizing issue,” said Dana Schwartz ’15, a Janus fellow. “The speakers were contentious and argued with each other, and I think that makes for the most engaging events.”

“I love to have people disagree with me,” Lott told The Herald after the event. “It makes things more interesting.”

While this first panel focused on crime, the next two panels on March 21 and April 4 will explore the roles of culture and mental health in the gun control debate.

“This one tackled crime really well and laid the groundwork for other issues,” Parekh said. “This was a really good launching point to further the conversation over the next few weeks.”

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