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Janus to cosponsor gun violence forums with Paxson

‘Guns in America,’ a Janus Forum miniseries, will feature speakers debating issues of gun violence

The Political Theory Project will co-sponsor a three-part Janus Forum Lecture miniseries with the Office of the President starting this Thursday entitled “Guns in America” to address gun culture, gun violence and the question of gun ownership based on mental health.

“Guns in America” differs from normal Janus forums only in its format as a miniseries and its inclusion of three speakers, rather than two, in each discussion, said Janus Forum Executive Director Haakim Nainar ’14.  Each two-hour event will take place in MacMillan 117.

“We wanted to have as broad a discussion as possible,” he added.

Janus planned on holding a conversation about guns before the president’s office extended significant resources — including funding — to the organization, Nainar said. “But when the president reached out to us, we fast-tracked that item on our agenda,” he said.

Paxson emailed the community at the end of last semester to say she intended to promote a campus-wide dialogue about gun violence in the wake of the December Newtown shootings.

The events deliberately exclude the phrase “gun control” to avoid predisposing the discussion to any specific topic, Nainar said.

The first forum, “Guns in America: Reducing Crime,” will take place Thursday and feature Carl Bogus, a professor of law at Roger Williams University; Steven Lippmann, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Louisville; and John Lott, the author of “More Guns, Less Crime.” The following two forums will feature authors, professors and leaders of organizations dealing with gun violence.

The Janus Steering Committee and Executive Board chose these speakers while formulating proposals for each event, Nainar said. “We were thinking about the different aspects we wanted to explore in each topic and how to get the best perspectives on each event,” Nainar said. “It’s definitely not your generic pro-guns, anti-guns thing.”

Janus also worked to gather suggestions for topics and speakers from members of the community, said Sam Gilman ’15, director of the Janus Forum Steering Committee.

The Janus Forum has no current plans to continue the discussion of guns in America after the conclusion of the miniseries, Nainar said.

“We could have had just another lecture on constitutional law, but that wasn’t what we thought would be the most helpful,” Nainar said. “There’s so much about guns in America that’s not covered by the Second Amendment discussion but still in so many aspects of American life that it requires some introspection.”

Some students praised this approach to the issue of gun violence. “It’s good to look at it as a practical issue in terms of realistic solutions,” said Jessica Steans-Gail ’16.

Collaborating with the president’s office has allowed Janus to advertise the miniseries on the official University website, but all other publicity has been conducted in accordance with usual Janus standards, Nainar said.

The panels will be followed by dinners with the speakers, faculty members and students. But though the first two will take place at the Faculty Club, the last will be at the President’s House, said Kim Roskiewicz, assistant to the president.

“Given the partnership with the president’s office, we may be more successful in reaching different areas of the campus and reaching community members,” Gilman said. But given the breadth of Janus Forum topics, it is hard to determine a regular audience for events, he added.

“I would say that this is definitely a necessary conversation in light of recent events, and I’m happy that Brown is providing a forum for this discussion,” said Samantha Reback ’16.

But other students questioned the efficacy of the planned discussions.

“I don’t think the Brown campus will be swayed, because I think there’s a large bias for gun control and the discussions will probably confirm what people already think,” said Kaivan Shroff ’15, a Janus Fellow. “But that could just be my opinion. And maybe people who don’t know what they believe will be influenced by one side or the other.”

Because they come months after the Newtown tragedy, “the forums won’t have as much immediate resonance,” Reback said.

But Janus members expressed optimism about the impact of the miniseries. Spreading out the panels over three weeks will help elevate the issue of guns to the forefront of campus dialogues, Gilman said.

“We want to have a sustained conversation on campus and to be a part of an ongoing societal discourse on campus about the role of guns in America,” Gilman said. “We can start a discourse here that can spread to discussion in other universities and change-makers in the nation.”


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