The Transylvania Times -

Local Panel Has Its Say On Gun Violence


May 10, 2018

Recently, roughly 130 community members gathered for a discussion about gun control, mental health and legal loopholes present in both the federal government and state laws concerning access to firearms.

Brevard Police Chief Phil Harris moderated a panel of three locals who were chosen to represent different perspectives on the subject: Carter Heyward, an Episcopal preacher and retired theology professor; Emily Walthall, a lawyer and gun owner, and cofounder of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; and Dave Hunter, a retired banker who formerly provided concealed carry permits training classes and is a self-proclaimed gun rights advocate.

This is the second of a two-part story about the panel discussion. The first part appeared in Monday’s paper.

What other factors should we consider when addressing gun violence in our society?

Carter: I think the most important thing for us to talk about, not only here, but throughout our lives in our religious communities, in our homes, in our schools — there are people talking about gun safety and community safety — how can we build a culture of mutual respect.

Of course, parents play a huge role in this. We all need to be involved in conversations. How do we help our young adults experience themselves as worthy human beings and worthy of mutual respect with each other and us? It’s a major spiritual problem facing all of us on all sides of the political divide. This is not about being a Democrat or Republican or a Libertarian or a Christian or a Jew or an atheist or a gun lover or a gun hater. So, how do we respect one another? I think in terms of the gun conversation, in particular, the more conversations like ones between Dave and I, the better. Dave and I would not be natural conversationalists over the gun topic, but because we knew each other, I trusted him and learned that he taught concealed carry. I thought we should talk together.

We really should talk to each other. We might even like each other. It needs to happen all over this county and all these United States.

Walthall: I would second that, but I do think that when this topic comes up people break down because they feel culturally attacked.

They feel like their values, especially conservative values, are being attacked or criticized. Their sense of control and security, that I think guns give a lot of us, is being attacked and trying to be taken away by people who do not mean any wrong, who are naive and ill-informed liberal people. I think that’s a big part of the problem.

We are not going to agree on everything, but I think we need to build on community, and I think about avoiding some of those discussions on the internet. I think a lot of us have seen this conversation go down on Facebook and there are people coming from both sides attacking one another.

Their emotions are totally legitimate, and they need to be able to express those, but that’s not the right way, and, probably, not the right platform for it. I really hope we can continue to build on what we’re trying to do in our community, but I think we have the same concerns about gun violence. I think we all have the same concerns for individuals wanting to feel respected and not attacked for their guns rights. I hope we can do that together, and I think that’s the central part of the solution — being mutually respectful.

Hunter: I want to continue this dialogue and building relationships. If I were king for a day, I would start a really serious adult conversation about criminal justice reform.

These problems do not exist of themselves in a vacuum — they are interdependent. Forty five years ago we had 300,000 prisoners incarcerated across the U.S. We’re now pushing close to 3 million. A lot of those people are non-violent drug offenders, and the way it translates in some of these peoples lives is, we take the worst instance in their life, we take the worst decision they have made in their life and we tag them with it for the rest of their lives. We give them the mark of being a felon. And being a non-violent felon can often mean an inability to secure employment, housing loss of franchise.

Somebody gets one little bad mark and they go into the system, and they never come out and it’s reflected in the level of incarceration in this country. We have spent $1.5 trillion on the war on drugs in the past 45 years. We spend $50 billion to $75 billion a year in this country on the war on drugs, and we spend $90 billion to $100 billion in incarceration. We have 4.5 percent of the world’s population and 22 percent of the world’s prison population. There is something terribly wrong there, and I believe beginning to address that we will begin to address the issue of violence in our society.

Kids and young people are cruel. What are we doing to start working with the schools to reduce the bullying?

Walthall: My husband and I have talked about this a lot. We graduated right before the time of social media and smart phones, 1999 and 2000. I was a junior in high school when Columbine happened, and it was very much on my mind when I was that age, but it seems like it has gotten worse.

I certainly think that the internet and the role of technology to thoughtlessly say something on social media and just destroy a teenager have made things worse.

I think also the internet can be a really harmful outlet for someone who feels that isolation and are angry and impotent. That is why I think programs like the Boys and Girls Club are important and law enforcement and church groups in our community. Mentorship is so important. I like to think that I am being proactive and part of the solution.

Hunter: As a military kid we moved every couple of years. I was always bullied, and I was always the new kid. But because of my size and my father’s insistence, I usually dealt with it myself.

It’s a different time and a different age. It doesn’t stop when you get inside your front door. It persists through social media. What the Boys and Girls Clubs do is create connections and relationships. I think the solutions to these kinds of things are creating those connections and these are pretty bright kids in the world today. Explain things to them and make them increasingly aware of how harmful it is. There will be those who will refuse to take the hint and, invariably, those people wind up on the outside of society. It never happens on our timetable, but universal justice gets weeded out much more slowly than we would like, but I think if we continue to create those connections, number one, increase the level of awareness amongst the youth or others as to how harmful the damage can be, that will at least give you some concrete steps you can take.

In 2016 the USA had 60,000 deaths by drugs, 37,461 deaths by motor vehicle, 7,105 handgun murders, 1,604 knife murders and 472 rifle murders. Why is this discussion centered on rifles?

Walthall: Those numbers seem right to me based on the studies that I have seen. By and far, handguns cause the most fatalities in this country. Two thirds of deaths are suicides and the rest are homicides.

When those two African American teenagers were shot to death on my block, they were handgun shootings. Looking at what happened in Vegas, of course, that shooter had a modified semi-automatic AR15, which is legal with bump stocks. Then, it became fully automatic. He killed 57 people, including himself, and shot an additional 422 people, and you fire 1,100 rounds in 10 minutes. I am not trying to shy away from this topic, restricting certain types of weapons. I do think that the number one issue in terms of the legal side is access. I have at least one friend who has an AR15. He keeps it in his gun safe, but I do think that the news focuses so much on these. Also, when you look at the deadliest shootings that have happened in the street, four of the five have happened since 2012. A ban on assault weapons — that’s not going to work. The Bushmaster rifle that was used in Connecticut — there was an existing ban at the time, Bushmaster designed that weapon around that law. It was legal. It’s not that I think those types of laws are futile. They have been passed in the federal court system. I do think that the primary issue in these situations is access, and that’s one of the most viable solutions as a community.

Hunter: As we sit here today we have no idea how many assault-style weapons are in the possession of the public, with estimates as low as 2 million and as high as 20 million. We don’t know. All of the legislation that has been proposed has not envisioned the confiscation of the guns; those firearms will continue to be out there.

Why is there a focus on that? There is power and influence in division.

There is money in division, and these kinds of rifles look fierce. They look like an M16 or an M4, or a fully automatic AK47. They symbolize a wedge that people can use to create this difference of opinion and manipulate emotion when, again, the facts are that these style of rifles, by and large, are not the issue. It is the inappropriate access.


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