Content warning: This article contains discussions of gun violence.
Students, faculty and community members gathered in Friedman Hall Wednesday for a panel discussion on gun violence prevention and safety.
The event was hosted by the Brown chapter of Students Demand Action and was sponsored by the Swearer Center and Taubman Center. Co-chair of SDA@Brown Mia Page-Tretta ’27 led the panel discussion, which included former U.S. Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., community activist Diana Garlington and Erica Jade Mullen PhD’14, a research consultant at Everytown for Gun Safety.
Mullen began the discussion by sharing statistics on the state of gun violence in Rhode Island, including the 36% rise in gun deaths between 2012 and 2021.
“This is a public health epidemic,” Cicilline said. “And it’s peculiar to America. This is not a problem that exists in any other developed country in the world at this level.” He added that gun violence is the leading cause of death for children in the United States.
Garlington and Cicilline both emphasized the importance of mental health support and educational funding in the prevention of violent attacks. They cited the passing of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in June 2022 as commendable progress, but not enough.
“Every time I speak to young people about this issue, I feel obligated to apologize,” Cicilline said. “Because when I was your age, we never had to think about this. And the idea that you have to think about this or … could be a victim or survivor, is unforgivable. It’s on the adults to keep you safe. And so we have failed you.”
During the second half of the event, panelists shared their personal stories with gun violence, bringing a raw and emotive undertone to the panel.
“I was one of those mothers that saw this violence happening daily,” Garlington said. “The children were being shot and killed. But I was really ignorant to it because I had a son (who) was heavily into doing his work and was a homebody.”
“So I felt like I was comfortable because it was only happening to a lot of violent men,” she said. “That changed. It was my daughter who was murdered.”
Mullen shared that she once had to leave during a Broadway show that featured a prop gun. She noted that many people are unable to understand “the things that (gun survivors) think about, the things that they see, the things that are said in everyday conversation that set them off and affect them differently (and) the PTSD that they experience.”
Page-Tretta is a survivor of gun violence whose best friend was killed during the 2019 Saugus High School shooting in Santa Clarita, California. If every person shared the mindset of a survivor, Page-Tretta said they “would live every day in fear. And people can’t live like that. They can’t comprehend what it’s like to go to school normal and leave on a stretcher.”
“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it’s awful. You go to the hospital, you get better and you go to therapy and you get a little better,’” Page-Tretta said. “But gun violence is with you for the rest of your life.”
Attendees Noah Cohen ’27 and Aman Vora ’27 both said they felt impacted by the event. “It was interesting to see the different communities and groups all unite, because (the panelists) focus on different things on the national level or the local level,” Cohen said.
“It’s always a little tricky for me to read about or hear about gun violence just because I feel like there (are) so many structural issues that need to be fixed before any progress can be made,” Vora said. “But going to these events always makes me reconsider that and realize that there are grassroots things that can be done to help make change.”
While Cohen considered the panel “a success,” he also noted that there are limitations to a discussion-based setting. “I’d love to just know more about what I specifically can do, rather than just listening and listening and listening,” he said.
Caleb Schultz ’26, co-chair of SDA@Brown and a panel organizer, said he hoped the event would spark greater conversation at Brown surrounding gun violence.
“We want to keep building on (the) momentum” of the 2022 Safer Communities Act, Schultz said.
Students Demand Action @ Brown is hoping to hold a smaller event in the near future, in addition to a potential SDA event co-hosted with Yale’s chapter.
“We need to have more forums, virtual forums, with students since, obviously, you are the future,” Garlington said. “We have to reach individuals where they are at.”
Maya Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer covering the undergraduate student life beat. She’s interested in studying either English or literary arts and loves to read anything sci-fi/fantasy in her free time. She also enjoys playing guitar, crocheting and spending an unreasonable amount of time on NYT Spelling Bee.