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Panel begins discussion series

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • February 7, 2013

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The four panelists and the moderator pose with President M. Lee Pelton for photos.
The four panelists and the moderator pose with President M. Lee Pelton for photos.

In a passionate discussion focused on the ban of certain guns, four panelists took the stage in the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre Monday. 

Titled “Made in America: Our Gun Violence Culture,” the discussion was the first of four events in President M. Lee Pelton’s initiative to start campuswide conversations about gun control and mental health in the wake of the Sandy Hook School shooting.

During the talk Monday, the four panelists answered questions from Emily Rooney, the host, producer, executive editor, and creator of Greater Boston and Beat the Press from WGBH-TV, who sat center stage. 

Before the discussion began, Pelton said he hoped the event would be useful to attendees. 

“This is an opportunity for our community to engage,” he said in an interview with the Beacon.

One-hundred and twenty people filled the Black Box Theatre to capacity. The Bright Family Screening Room projected a live feed of the panel for an additional 40 people, said Andrew Tiedemann, vice president of public affairs. The event was open to the public.

Generally, the panelists were respectful to one another, each said in an interview after the event — aside from a few interruptions among the men, and engaged in a multi-sided conversation. 

Panelist Jack McDevitt, Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice associate dean for graduate studies and research and the director of the Institute on Race and Justice, said he was pleased with the outcome. 

“I’ve been in panels before that were far less civil,” said McDevitt.

However, panelist John Rosenthal,the president of Meredith Management and founder of Stop Handgun Violence, a nonprofit, said that though the information they shared was important, nothing was resolved. 

“People are smart enough to form their own opinions,” he said. “It just gets frustrating when people on the panel are accusatory and say, ‘Oh, you just want to ban guns,’ because I don’t. I really don’t.”

The conversation delved into whether or not citizens should be able to purchase the AR-15 military style weapon the gun used in the Newtown shooting. Rooney held up a copy of Sunday’s New York Times Business section that displaye an article titled “The Most Wanted Gun in America.” Above the story was a photo of Maryland gun store owner holding up the an AR-15. He was standing in front of a wall of similar weapons. 

“This kind of gun that will be banned is not a hunting rifle. It is used for protection,” said Rooney. “Do we need to have this gun in the hands of any individual in America who wants one?”

She then said people are buying this weapon because it is a military gun. 

Steve Moysey, a panelist and director of the Gun Owner’s Action League and counter-terrorism specialist, said the weapon should stay on the shelves, stating that this is a semi-automatic gun, not a military weapon. 

A semi-automatic gun releases one bullet each time the trigger is pulled. An automatic weapon releases bullets until the gun user lets go of the trigger.

“It looks like military a style weapon, but it is not a military style weapon,” said Moysey. “It is a very effective personal defense weapon.”

McDevitt voiced concerns about taking the gun off the market, as the Times article discussed. He said people would rush to purchase it.

Panelist Richard Feldman, author and president of the Independent Firearm Association, followed up these concerns. 

“Any gun that goes on the ban list goes on Richard Feldman’s buy list,” he said. Feldman said he owns 11 of these guns. During the panel, Moysey and Rosenthal said they owned guns as well.  

The one-gun-a-month rule, an idea where state citizens can only purchase one gun per month, was also discussed.

Feldman said he believes this rule would take away a major investigative lead for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The multiple sales form, which must be filled out for the purchase of more than one gun in a monthly period, is important information for the ATF, said Feldman. 

“When we have actionable intelligence to know a person is stupid enough to go into a gun shop and have a background check stopped, that’s when we get people watching,” he said. 

Moysey agreed with this, and said it would take away a valuable tool. 

“My wife is here in the audience,” he said. “But there have been months where I’ve bought more than one gun. Sorry, honey.” 

McDevitt said these investigations, into  multiple gun purchases do not happen. 

“Police departments aren’t doing [background checks],” he said. “The stuff they get back from ATF is messy, old, [and] hard to deal with. It is not happening across the commonwealth or the country.”

According to the ATF website, the “Report of Multiple Sale or Other Disposition of Pistols and Revolvers” form must be filed by the licensees if an unlicensed person purchases two or more pistols or revolvers during five consecutive business days. The form must be filed three times. The original copy must be sent to the ATF National Tracing Center within the same business day; the second copy must be sent to the Chief Local Law Enforcement Official; and the third copy should be filed by the licensee.  

After the hour-and-a-half long discussion came to a close, Rooney opened up the floor for questions.

Maria Warith, a senior political communication major, approached the microphone to ask why killings of black children in Chicago did not receive as much media attention as the Newtown shooting, where all of the victims were white. 

Rooney cut Warith off and told her that media coverage was the only reason that she knew about these shootings at all. She then moved on to the next person in line.

Warith, visibly angry, continued to speak. 

“I’m not complacent about what news I look up,” said Warith, raising her voice over Rooney and the next speaker. “I don’t think Emerson students are complacent.” 

Rosenthal then addressed Warith’s question. 

“Three thousand kids have been dying every half-year, but they have been non-white people in urban areas,” he said. “But now when white kids die in Connecticut, we focus on the issue. Shame on us adults for not taking care of our children.”

The audience applauded for the first time that evening. Warith thanked Rosenthal. 

Warith said she was pleased with how the debate went, and that her incident with Rooney won’t discourage her from attending the future panels.

“I think she was unwelcoming and a disrespectful journalist,” said Warith in an interview. Rooney left the room before she could be reached for comment. 

Pelton said he was pleased with the discussion. 

“I wasn’t going to be able to resolve a complex issue, but I think we are all more educated, which will help contribute to the democratic process,” he said. 

The next discussion is tentatively scheduled for March and will focus on the Second Amendment, said Tiedemann. The third panel, on violence in the media and video games, is tentatively scheduled for the beginning of April; and the fourth, on the sociological and socio-economic components of violence in America, will likely occur later that month, said Tiedemann.