Speakers address gun violence

FOSTORIA – About 100 people gathered at St. Wendelin Parish Life Center Saturday for a community forum on sensible gun regulation. In opening remarks, Jim Bailey said he grew up with guns and even received a 16-gauge shotgun for his 16th birthday. In 2004, he and Jo Hollingsworth founded Fosotoria Area Citizens for Peace with a focus against the war and U.S. occupation in Iraq.

“We are here today to address the tragedy of gun-related violence in America that is far more deadly for Americans than the war in Iraq ever was,” Bailey said. “We don’t want our children or their children to be the next victims.”

Even though guns need people to use them, Bailey feels guns and people need to be regulated more carefully and access to firearms should be more limited. It is a complicated issue he said, but concerned citizens must stand up to the gun lobby and insist on sensible solutions.

Owning a motor vehicle requires registration, age limits for operators, knowledge about rules of the road and a database to store information. Bailey thinks motor vehicle registration could serve as a model to register guns. In addition, cars now have many safety features, and people who drive while impaired are prosecuted. None of these safeguards are required for gun ownership.

“It’s not about intelligence its about money … for those who make and sell guns, for the lobbyists, for the politicians,” Bailey said. “This is a widely shared opinion.”

Response options to a violent intruder

The first guest speaker, Marjorie Burton, is head of security at Oberlin University. Burton said she was not there to promote one viewpoint or another but to give an overview of what typically happens between the time a crisis unfolds and the time first responders arrive. She is an instructor in the ALICE program that teaches response options for acts of violence.

“In 1966, one of the early school shootings occurred in Austin, Texas, at the University of Texas … That was kind of a game changer in police response to shootings.” Burton said.

Now that gun attacks have become more common in the workplace, churches, stores and other public spaces where many “soft targets” are present, law enforcement has re-evaluated the kinds of equipment they carry and the protocols for responding. Sometimes locking down a building to confine a gunman gives him or her more time to do damage before SWAT teams can arrive. Because officers cannot protect every citizen in every location, individuals need to take more responsibility for their own personal safety.

“How many of you have actually looked to see where the exits are and how to get out of this room?” Burton said.

People who know some options for an emergency can save lives. ALICE is an acronym for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate.” These represent options for individuals. In any public place, a person should be alert to conditions and people that may be dangerous. Locking doors against an intruder and staying out of sight can buy time to escape.

Keeping others informed about developments and collaborating with others to escape is important. When face to face with a shooter, a potential victim may “counter” by throwing objects, moving about or making noise to distract the person. Burton said a fire extinguisher can be a valuable tool in subduing an attacker. Evacuating is the ultimate goal as soon as it is safe to do so. Burton said “evacuate” could be first on the list in some situations.

President Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence includes a requirement for schools and universities to have emergency plans in place and to practice them with law enforcement. Grants may be available to implement the plans and to hire mental health professionals to recognize warning signs and to teach students how to react to an active shooter.

Mental illness considerations

Phyllis Putnam is retired from a long career as a mental health professional. She listed some of the most serious kinds of brain disorders that can profoundly disrupt a person’s perception, mood, thought processes, emotions, behavior and ability to relate to others, especially in stressful situations. They include schizophrenia, major depression, bi-polar disease, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit -hyperactivity disorder and panic disorder.

“Some illnesses are chronic and very severe, while others may be very mild … but I want you to know that even though mental illness is a serious disease, people can recover,” Putnam said.

Of the people affected by mental illnesses, research shows about 3 percent are violent, Putnam said. The media who cover mass shootings often question the mental state of the attackers, but it can be difficult to prove the presence of mental disabilities. Even those who seek treatment may not get what they need. Public mental health systems accept low-income clients, and the waiting list may be long.

“Over $4.6 million was cut from services to the mentally ill. This does not help because people don’t get enough services or they wait too long to go,” Putnam said.

She recommended the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a non-profit organization that educates, assists and supports families coping with mental illness. NAMI programs and service are free. NAMI also conducts crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers to help them respond to mentally ill offenders.

Putnam said some Ohio cities have mental health courts that mandate treatment for law breakers. Ohio also has mental health parity, which means mental illness is to be treated on the same level as other diseases. Gov. John Kasich plans to earmark $5 million for mental health services for children.

“I feel that probably the worst thing about mental illness is the stigma that’s attached to mental illness, and it’s not only against the person who has the mental illness, but also their families. I think it’s important for all of us not just talking about gun violence – to understand what mental illness is,” Putnam said.

Meaning of the Second Amendment

Jim Bailey spoke briefly about the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court has said citizens do have the right to own guns for hunting and self-defense. The court also declared a well-regulated militia is necessary for public safety; however, the government does have the right to make regulations.

“When it was written, you’re talking about guns that fired one shot … not guns that can fire 50 shots in just a few minutes,” Bailey said.

Ending gun violence now

Toby Hoover of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, gave the keynote address. She began by encouraging the audience to respect differing opinions and to be open-minded. In giving statistics on gun-related deaths in Ohio and the U.S., she said the numbers do not tell the whole story.

People tend to jump to conclusions when a tragedy occurs, especially when it involves child victims. Hoover said schools still are safer than many other places. Incidents such as the Sandy Hook shootings are rare, but they draw widespread attention and arouse strong emotions, even in people who are not directly involved.

Discussing and formulating prevention strategies should not be affected by politics, Hoover said. She was disturbed about the response of Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Association, who said “lunatics and monsters” are responsible for incidents such as Sandy Hook, not guns. He also said guns in the classrooms could enable school personnel to prevent such disasters. Hoover does not believe all gun owners would agree with his response.

“It was time to talk about guns a long time ago. We can’t keep running from this problem and say ‘We’re not going to talk about it,'” Hoover said.

In recent weeks, President Barack Obama has consulted with various groups about the issue. Many proposals are not new, including gun registration and licensing, added safety features, background checks, waiting periods for purchasing, limits on the number of guns and ammunition that can be bought at one time, and restricted access for youth.

“I’ve talked in many rooms like this that were full of children. I said to them, “Do you all know if there’s a gun in your house?’ All their little hands go up. I ask ‘Do you know where to find it?’ Their hands go up, just like if I would ask them where their Christmas presents are hidden,” Hoover said.

Ohio has 11.5 million people, and about 3 percent of the population have a license to carry in public. Hoover said the other 97 percent ought to have some input about what is happening in their communities. She was encouraged that Obama signed 23 executive orders and four policy goals regarding new regulations for firearms.

In the meantime, adults can remove guns from their homes or at least secure them in safe places. They can teach and practice nonviolent conflict resolution. They can boycott products that glamorize violence. They can contact legislators to express their opinions and suggestions.

“We’ve had enough. We want gun violence to end, and we think all of you do, too,” Hoover said.