Times-Dispatch forum on guns draws mixed response

Sam Isaacs
Staff Writer

Richmonders on both sides of the gun debate made their voices heard on Jan. 29 at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s “Public Square Forum,” a monthly discussion between the public and experts on topics of public interest.

The event, which is normally open to the public, required attendees to obtain a ticket beforehand because of an expected sell-out.

Audience members were barred from bringing firearms to the forum but members of the VCU chapter of Students for Concealed Carry attended the forum. The group started at VCU in 2009 to promote the idea of students and faculty members having the right to carry a concealed weapon on campus if they have a permit.

Students for Concealed Carry President John Allen wanted to make the group’s mission statement known at the forum.

Photo by Zachary Heerbrandt

“We want to stay focused on our agenda, not the entire issue of guns. If criminals are going to take them on campus, why can’t we?” he said.

Phillip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Civil Defense League, who has worked with Students for Concealed Carry, said he would not attend the event because no guns were allowed.

Allen said he thinks communication is one of the main obstacles in reaching a solution about gun safety. He said both sides need to do a better job at communicating.

“I don’t see any groups gaining ground on the topic. The big problem is bad communication, we set out to learn and teach at the same time,” he said.

The forum, moderated by Times-Dispatch President and publisher Tom Silvestri, started the evening by introducing Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Brown presented the polls conducted by the Institute which highlighted overall gun opinions as well as views of gender and demographics.

According to the poll, 42 percent of Virginians thought gun laws should stay the same and 48 percent thought they should be more strict. 58 percent of women thought there needed to be more control, but only 39 percent of men felt the same way.

Brown said that demographics play a large role in why Virginians are so polarized on the issue of gun control.

“Where you live is a really important factor in what you think, it is an expression of who you are. Your neighbors are likely to share your views and values,” he said. After the presentations, the audience was given the opportunity the share their opinions and ask questions. As moderator, Silvestri rotated speaking privileges between pro- and anti-gun advocates.

The topics ranged from guns in schools, gun registration and assault rifle regulations.

Both sides were split on the statement “guns save lives,” a statement often presented by pro-gun groups.

James Reynolds of Proactive Shooters concluded the evening by observing that there needs to be a better screening process for those who use guns, a notion that sat well with members of each viewpoint.

“You can not legislate crazy,” Reynolds said.

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