On Thursday evening, 19 September 2013, a “campus and community discussion” on gun violence convened at the Dillard Auditorium on the campus of Winston-Salem State University (WSSU). Jointly sponsored by WSSU, Wake Forest University, Wake Forest School of Medicine, and Salem College, the event was originally conceived by members of the Sociology Club at WSSU.
Since there was some overlap in the people involved, I expected this event to be similar to the “Under the Gun” symposium that took place a couple of months earlier in Winston-Salem. Those expectations were violated from the start.
After a brief welcome, the president of the WSSU Sociology Club, Mr. Donald Williams, introduced “Run. Hide. Fight,” a 6 minute video produced by “Ready Houston,” an initiative of the City of Houston Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security that is funded by the US Department of Homeland Security under the Urban Area Security Initiative grant program. According to its website, “The goal of Ready Houston is to tailor emergency preparedness messages to the unique hazards faced in the greater Houston region.”
The purpose of “Run. Hide. Fight” is to provide people “the information you need to survive an active shooter event.” According to the Houston Chronicle, the crew filming the video wrapped up their work just two weeks before the Aurora theater massacre in July 2012.
This video set a dramatically different tone for the symposium than the earlier one I attended at the art gallery. It begins with the premise that there are “bad people” in the world who do “bad things” and people “need to be prepared for the worst.” The video was immediately reinforced by the first speaker, Darrell Jeter, the Director of Emergency Management at WSSU, who discussed practical issues in working with first responders in emergency situation.
The second speaker was Barry Rountree, the City of Winston-Salem Police Chief, whose essential message boiled down to, if you are a gun owner, be responsible. Dr. Kimya Dennis, a sociologist at Salem College in Winston-Salem addressed the varying impact of gun violence, notably the disproportionate impact of gun violence on the African-American community in the United States. She also highlighted the reality that guns do not cause violence – rates of violent crime in “gun-free” England are as bad as in the U.S. – but guns do escalate violence. They take violent situations and make them more deadly. The fourth speaker was Jennifer Martin, Chief Assistant District Attorney for Forsyth County. Martin discussing the impending expansion of concealed carry in North Carolina and enhancements of punishments for crimes committed with guns. Her bottom line was zero tolerance for the use of firearms in the commission of crimes. The final panelist was John Petty, M.D., Director of Pediatric Trauma at Wake Forest School of Medicine, who spoke about the “trauma pyramid” from injury to death, and types of trauma deaths related to firearms including unintentional injury, homicide, and suicide.
Despite the diversity of their professional perspectives, there was a general emphasis in the panel on two points: (1) an emphasis on personal responsibility, and (2) the complexity of causes of gun violence.
Although some interesting points were raised by all of the panelists, the question and answer session that followed the panel – moderated by Thomas Arcury, a professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest – was especially interesting for its diversity of perspectives offered.
On the one hand, one audience member asked why there wasn’t mandatory training for gun ownership, and another expressed concern over the expansion of concealed carry to North Carolina restaurants and bars. On the other hand, one man talked about how when he was young and stupid he committed a felony and lost his gun rights, but he had been on the straight and narrow for some time now. He wanted to know how he could get his gun rights restored so he could protect himself and his family. Another audience member asked whether she could be charged for using a firearm she is illegally carrying, if she had a legitimate need to use it in self-defense.