Following a shooting at a community college in Oregon three weeks ago where an armed man killed 10 people and injured seven others before committing suicide, students gathered Wednesday afternoon in the Rosen Room of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center to discuss the issue of gun control in America.
The event was hosted by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and the Political Student Assembly as part of the California Politics Roundtable Discussion — a joint effort between the two organizations.
The discussion was moderated by Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute; Sonali Seth, director of political content for the PSA and editorial director of the Daily Trojan; and Jonathan Gunn, social media marketing director for PSA. It featured Christina Bellantoni, assistant managing editor for politics at the Los Angeles Times and Alan Zarembo, projects and investigative reporter for the L.A. Times.
Bellantoni responded to question asking if shootings similar to the one in Oregon have an affect on the political landscape. She said that in 2011, the year Republicans took office, Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, was shot at an event in her home district.
“A year later there were the shootings in Newtown. And I said, ‘This is it, people watched children get slaughtered at a school, there will be an instance where you see something happening,” she said. “If those two incidents were not going to change the political landscape at a time when the nation was struck by tragedy, then it was not going to happen.”
Since the Newtown shootings, many have observed the lack of legislation on the subject of gun control because of the divide between Democrats and Republicans on the issue.
“With the red-blue division of states, gun control is the kind of issue where these political and cultural divides play out in very real terms,” Schnur said.
The discussion also touched on the role of mental health in mass shootings.
“The problem with using the mental health argument is that there are a lot of people who are mentally disturbed in our country. Very, very few are involved in shootings,” Zarembo said. “As a strategy for bringing down shootings, addressing mental health is probably not a good idea as there much clearer things that could be done.”
Leesa Danzek, a senior majoring in political science, asked about current legislation controlling the sale of guns to criminals.
“I am not an expert on what legislation is out there,” Bellantoni said. “But I will tell you that what they’re looking at in California is having ammunition be registered and doing more background checks.”
Seth noted the discrepancy between the perception of how much crime has risen over the past couple of decades versus how much it has actually risen.
“Do you think there are any political implications of this perception that crime is rising while it may not be?” she asked.
Zarembo responded by saying the perception might come from politicians preparing for negative outcomes.
“Well, crime is not rising, overall,” Zarembo said. “I think that fear is a very powerful force in politics, and if you listen to our politicians, my impression is that we’re always on the edge of catastrophe and perhaps the media could do a better job of dialing us back to reality.”