US senators and experts talk gun control at UConn panel

A panel sponsored by UConn, sparked a discussion about gun control amid the recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels.

On Thursday afternoon, the University of Connecticut sponsored the panel “Gun Laws in America: What Works and What’s Possible.” In the virtual event, Senator Chris Murphy (CT-D) affirmed, “What’s possible is not the same thing as what works. But what is possible today is much greater than what was possible years ago.” 

The conversation came in the wake of recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. It covered the ways in which state, local and federal laws are able to combat gun violence. The panelists also discussed where these laws fall short and what is being done now.  

The event was cosponsored by the Scholars Strategy Network and The Gun Violence Prevention Research Interest Group. It featured both of Connecticut’s senators, Murphy and Richard Blumenthal (D). Also featured were Dr. Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research and Jackie Santiago, chief executive officer of COMPASS Youth Collaborative. 

“I am proud that UConn is involved in this conversation,” said President Thomas Katsouleas as he introduced the panelists. It was moderated by Alan Bennet (‘69), a UConn alumni and board member of Brady United.  

Both Murphy and Blumenthal pointed to the significance of the 2013 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary (Newtown, Connecticut) in forging their leadership on the issues of gun control. Blumenthal said that a lot more is possible today than it was a few years ago. 

“In the wake of the latest tragic shootings … we think the political dynamic has changed.” 

“In the wake of the latest tragic shootings … we think the political dynamic has changed,” said Blumenthal. 

Blumenthal attributes the shift to additional factors such as the National Rifle Association’s bankruptcy, a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress, a president “committed to fighting gun violence” and the emergence of a political movement, shown by groups like Brady and Moms Against Guns. 

Policy-wise, as discussed in the panel, there is aim to push forward legislation on universal background checks, gun storage laws  (e.g. “Ethan’s Law), regulation of ghost guns (guns created by parts) and for protections against domestic violence (e.g. Lori Jackson Law). Additionally, Blumenthal hopes, “President Biden would move ahead with executive orders.”  

Crifasi acknowledged that most gun control policies have support among the majority of adult Americans. Public opinion polls show that over 85% of Americans support universal background checks and 72% support gun licenses. Though gun control supporters may need to temper expectations, “[gun control regulation] will be a compromise,” Murphy said. 

Murphy pointed to the proliferation of guns and their correlation with increases in gun crimes and homicide, though he also highlighted the role of poverty and historical oppression in perpetuating violence.  

“The need is to have a more comprehensive conversation about American violence beyond just the gun.”

“The need is to have a more comprehensive conversation about American violence beyond just the gun,” Murphy said. 

As she mentioned during the event, Santiago has these conversations every day on the ground in Hartford. The COMPASS organization works to connect “peacebuilders” with high risk youth.  

“We are literally meeting youth wherever they are … the work is intense and it’s a matter of life or death,” Santiago said. 

She said that critical funding is needed for community based prevention efforts, mental health and public health research on gun violence. 

“We all know the saying, hurt people hurt people … we add … Healed people heal people. And Loved people love people,” Santiago said. 

In the question and answer portion, panelists expanded on movements to further limit legislators in the court and political resistance to background checks. As the panel came to a close, Dr. Carl Lejuez, Provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, left the audience to think about the importance of courage in all the work panelists and audience members do as they move forward advocating for gun control. 

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