How do we make gun legislation fair to both sides? What do we do to prevent mass shootings? And where does suicide enter the gun control discussion? These were all questions posed during “The Social Life of Guns,” a two-day symposium exploring guns in America. The University of Rochester’s Humanities Center organized and sponsored the event this past week, bringing more than a dozen professors and researchers from across the nation to discuss gun violence.
“Part of the point of this symposium is to kind of explore how these things are connected. We have speakers that are talking about mass shootings and policing, obviously but also mental health, suicide and domestic violence,” said Kate Mariner, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Visual and Cultural Studies. She was a lead organizer of the event and said it was important to present a nuanced, fair and informative discussion.
Jeff Swanson, professor at Duke University, was one of the speakers. He discussed the relationship between mental health and gun violence Thursday morning and said it’s important to ensure gun policy isn’t unfair to the mentally ill. He also doesn’t want the gun debate to further stigmatize them.
“Gun control in our country isn’t really so much gun control as it is about people control,” he said. “How we figure out the people who are so dangerous that it’s justified to limit their second amendment right. That’s really hard to do because violence is complicated. It’s caused by many things. People are complicated.”
He says mass shooters often fit a similar description. They’re more likely to be isolated, disengaged and struggling with mental health but he says not everyone like this will be an irresponsible gun owner.
“What I’m finding is that this conversation is really necessary,” said Sara Hughes, a community activist who attended both days. “What it’s allowing us to do is look at gun violence through lenses that help us understand how statistics relate to human lives and human stories.”
“There are very similar stories being told,” she continued. “If we can just get folks to understand that what they’re experiencing is not mutually exclusive from what other people are experiencing and find some common ground, we might be able to make some progress.”
Mariner says the interdisciplinary approach is key to having a real discussion on guns. Not only does it introduce people to new perspectives and ways of reducing gun violence, it's more nuanced than the daily conversation allows for.
"I think it brings some depth and breadth and nuance to the kinds of conversations that people can have about this," said Mariner. "It's been really fruitful and it's been the kind of event that's gotten better over time. Just as the day progresses, we're putting out more [informational] tools that people can pick up and use, and talk about."