SU graduate Stephen Barton and a panel of experts discuss gun control in the United States

In lieu of the recent mass shootings, a panel was held Tuesday night in Hendricks Chapel to discuss the issue of gun control.

Photo: Gabriel Shore
Political science professor Robert Spitzer speaks about gun rights.

Stephen Barton, a 2012 Syracuse University graduate, detailed his horrific experience on July 19 in Aurora, Conn. when a gunman at a midnight premiere of The Dark Night Rises shot him in the head and torso. 

 “I fell forward into the aisle,” Barton said. “Our host in Aurora was shot in the head. I thought I was going to die.”

 SU kicked off its gun control conversation Tuesday night with an open panel discussion, “Guns and America: Joining the Conversation,” in Hendricks Chapel. The panel members included Barton, Helen Hudson, Syracuse community council member and cofounder of Mothers Against Gun Violence, Dr. James Knoll, a forensic psychiatrist at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Scott Armstrong, a former NRA lobbyist and Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland.

The discussion kicked off with Barton as the keynote speaker. Barton now works for the Organization of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“During the past six months, I’ve learned it’s how we react to setbacks and difficulties that ultimately defines us,” Barton said. 

Barton said although he has seen a lot of sadness, including when he met Victoria Soto’s family after she was fatally shot in the Newtown school shootings on Dec. 14, he has also seen incredible strength in the surviving victims of these tragedies and victims’ families. 

Council member Hudson localized the issue of gun control, explaining that since 1996 there have been 323 homicides in Syracuse, which have affected 22,000 lives in total.

 Hudson said she advocates for stricter gun control laws, explaining that although the second amendment states we have the right to bear arms, it was created at a time when we were shooting with muskets, not semi-automatic weapons.

 Spitzer, the political science professor at SUNY Cortland, said he thinks the nation’s gun laws need updating.

 “As old as guns are in America, that’s how old the gun regulations are,” Spitzer said.            

 Spitzer said there are currently 80 million gun owners in the U.S., but guns are not distributed equally among the population and the country.

 He also said two-thirds of all guns are long guns, used for sporting and hunting, and one-third of guns are handguns, which are used in 80 percent of all gun crimes.

 Knoll, the forensic psychiatrist, said that mass shootings occur because of an extreme, profound selfishness, not evil. He also said he believes the new gun law and subsequent debates focus too much on mental health and use it as a scapegoat.

 “Mental illness isn’t the centerpiece, it’s a distracter,” Knoll said. “We need to disentangle mental illness with violence and mass murder.”

 Armstrong, the former NRA lobbyist, opposes the new gun laws in New York and said he does not think gun owners are the problem.

“I have yet to meet a gun owner who is in favor of gun violence,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said there are over 300 million guns in America and they aren’t going anywhere. He said he believes gun owners are singled out in gun laws, and that the new gun law should be concerning to everyone because it was decided at 11:30 p.m. on Monday night with almost no debate.

“When you’re steam rolling people’s rights, you have to do it quickly,” Armstrong said.  

Jona Cano, a communication, sciences and disorders junior, said she enjoyed the talk.

“What I liked about it was the diversity,” Cano said. “I thought it was great to have some non-partisan speakers, like Dr. Knoll talking about mental health. I think that there was equal representation on both sides of the debate as well.”           



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