Gun control debate needs to focus on more than mass shootings, president of UConn Against Gun Violence says

The student organization UConn Against Gun Violence hosted a screening of the documentary 91% followed by a discussion panel for students to react to the film on October 24 in Laurel Hall. The featured speakers of the panel included, pictured from left to right, Ron Pinciaro, who is the Executive Director of of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, Spencer Cohen, who is the President of the UConn Pistol and Rifle Club, and John Richie, who directed the documentary 91%. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

Following the shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 last week, there has been a renewed call for improved gun control laws by some including a University of Connecticut student leader who said the focus of the debate needs to broaden.

President of UConn Against Gun Violence Elizabeth Charash said that while she believes weak gun laws and the culture of violence promoted for young men were contributing causes for the Parkland shooting, the dialogue needs to shift away from its almost exclusive focus on mass shootings if the nation is to ever achieve comprehensive and effective gun control laws.

“I think one of the reasons we haven’t progressed as a nation on this issue is because we’re so focused on the mass shootings that we ignore the everyday violence that goes on in this country,” Charash said.

Charash said mass shootings get attention in the media, and subsequently the public, for a few days.

“If we actually want to address this issue comprehensively, we need to focus on all aspects of gun violence, not just those that happen and make headlines,” Charash said. “The media should cover all aspects of gun violence. I think that’s one of the main issues right now.”

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who has long been a vocal and public advocate for gun control legislation, addressed the Senate Wednesday, saying government inaction is to blame for the epidemic of mass shootings that afflict our country.

"This epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting. It only happens here not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction,” Murphy said. “We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else."

Charash said she does not think the issue is Congress’s inaction, but rather a lack of grassroots mobilization by the people to spur legislators on.

“I don’t think the issue is in Congress; I think the issue is in the mobilization of the people and the student leadership from the students in Parkland has been incredible,” Charash said.

Charash said she and her organization are reaching out to the students at Parkland.

“Too often we impose our own standards of what we think people need rather than acknowledging what they want and what they need in that time,” Charash said.

Charash said her initial reaction to hearing about Parkland was a sense of numbness as the fact that another mass shooting, the 30th this year according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, had just occurred sank in.

“Every time there’s a shooting that I hear about on the news, I think of who’s most important to me and have I told them I love them today,” Charash said.

Charash said the media should link the human element of those who are affected by gun violence with statistics that show what a widespread problem it is in this country.

“The way in which it’s covered in the media doesn’t acknowledge the humanity of those who have been killed,” Charash said. “So, it makes it a lot easier to gloss over the subject and having it only be three days in print.”  

Charash said people’s attention to the issue has a tendency of waning. Charash said it is important for people to continue seek out factual, unbiased information in order to understand the complexity of the issue.

“I think one of the main issues in the movement is that people are sad for a day but then they move on or they don’t know of an outlet where they can talk about it. And that’s why we have our organization on campus,” Charash said. “That hasn’t changed; it’s only strengthened in the advent of all these shootings.”

Charash said UConn Against Gun Violence will be having a group discussion about understanding Parkland in the broader context of gun violence in the United States at their meeting Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in Austin 237.

Charash said talking about the issue of gun violence in an informed manner is critical to affecting change.

“We need to promote discourse. We need to promote informed change, and to do that you need to talk about it,” Charash said. “And it can’t just be me at the table, it needs to be everyone.”

Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at She tweets @ZarraAnna.