DWU Hosts Forum On Guns & Mental Health

Posted by Samantha Dlugosh on

Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell hosts "Triggers: A Critical Conversation About Guns and Mental Health in America." It's a look at different perspectives on gun rights and young adult mental health in America.

Alisha Vincent is Executive Director of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University

John Gruber is a guest speaker at the event and is with the Illinois Council Against Gun Violence. He was Senior Manager with the Brady Campaign. This conversation has been edited for web use, to listen to it in its entirety click here.

Lori Walsh:                           

Welcome back to In the Moment, I'm Lori Walsh. Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell hosts Triggers, a Critical Conversation about Guns and Mental Health in America. It's a look at different perspectives on gun rights, and young adult mental health in the country. Alisha Vincent is the executive director of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University. John Gruber is a guest speaker at the event, and he's with the Illinois Council Against Gun Violence. He was senior manager with the Brady Campaign. This event is free and it's open to the public, and it's held in the Sherman Center. From 6:30 to 8:pm next Wednesday, March 14th, that's central time of course. Alisha Vincent, thank you so much for joining us, welcome.

Alisha Vincent:                  

Thank you, thanks for having me.

Lori Walsh:                           

John Gruber thanks so much for being here as well.

John Gruber:                       

Thanks so much, excited to be here.

Lori Walsh:                           

Alisha, let's start with you. Give me an idea of why this program, and why now? What kind of conversations led up to it.

Alisha Vincent:                  

This program was really initiated by our students, and we think our students here on campus have a pretty powerful voice, and we knew that this was important to them. They came to our office and asked if we would be willing to host a forum. I think we have a group of really motivated students here on campus, that are part of our McGovern Engagement Group, and they're really dedicated to hosting events on campus that raise awareness about important issues in a non partisan way. And they wanted to do that, and wanted to extend that invitation to our community as well. Really believing in the importance of providing informed perspectives, and different perspectives, but ones that will allow our students access to information that our students might not readily seek out in order to gain some information and understanding about important issues like these.

Lori Walsh:                           

Alisha is that something that came from the students, that they really wanted those different perspectives? Or is that something that you, maybe guided them toward, or was it coming from what they wanted the program to be?

Alisha Vincent:                  

I would say, again, a testament to this particular group of students, they really want to have that bi partisan, different perspectives. And so, they like to have balance. They're not afraid to tackle hot topics, but they really want to hear all sides of that issue, so that they can form their own opinion and ideas. Again, it's a testament to who they are as students, and wanting that for the rest of their peers on campus as well. Like, okay, we know this is a controversial topic, so bring speakers on campus, who have different opinions about this topic. Let us hear from them, in an informed way, and then let us mold and shape our own opinion.

Lori Walsh:                           

And how is the day going to be set up?

Alisha Vincent:                  

We are hosting it as a forum, so John, and Glen Caroline, from the NRA, will both be joining ... he will be joining, Glen will be joining via live stream. And they'll be talking, answering some questions, that our students themselves have actually devised, with some over site from our office. So they will be posing these questions; one about the second amendment. One about legislation, and how maybe it could advance safety in our schools and around our nation as well. So they're going to pose questions. Each, both Glen and John, will have about five minutes to answer each of those questions, and then there will be some time for each person to rebut if they want to, and to follow up with those responses. We also have an expert, a clinical psychologist from the Avera group here in Mitchell, who will be coming and talking about the state of mental health among young people in America, and I think those will be some really great questions that are posed to him, and responses that really draw a lot of awareness to what we're facing among our youth today. Even me, I still am sometimes surprised by some of the statistics and some of the information that we see, in dealing with some college students that come to campus too.

Lori Walsh:                           

John Gruber, again, with the Illinois Council Against Gun Violence. John, have you received many more invitations recently after the shooting in Parkland, Florida High School? Is this something that you just do all the time, because it's a conversation that never goes away in America?

John Gruber:                       

So the first thing I'll say is, I'm really excited to be coming and speaking, because I think that we need to be having more of these conversations. And I think that, student engagement around this issue is super critical, right? We look to our students, we look to our next generation of students, that are going to be thought leaders, and you know people leading our society. So we have to be willing to engage in conversations with them. So I'm really grateful for that. In terms of the outpouring of invitations, yes. I worked at the Brady Campaign for three years, before coming to the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. What you see after every mass shooting, you know there'd be a spike in invitations to speak, because there's such a misunderstanding on part of the American public in all states. Red states, blue states, everywhere, about what our gun laws actually are, and why these tragedies keep happening, and what we can do to prevent them. And what really the Gun Violence Prevention Movement even stands for. So, you know we get tons of these requests. You know, I went to a meeting, outside of Chicago, in a suburb, and the meeting usually has about 10 hardcore people, that are really active in the movement, we couldn't even fit enough people in the library. You know, there are 600 members of the group called Moms Demand Action in the suburbs of Chicago, where there's usually about 20 people going to that meeting. You're seeing this out pouring, and I think what's different this time, is that people have really had enough of seeing this pattern. And I think that we live in an age where, when Columbine happened, and even when Sandy Hook happened, these things weren't in our living rooms, they weren't popping up on our smart phones, they weren't all over our Facebook feeds. And now people are seeing it more, and more, and more. And they keep on wondering, what's going on, why does this keep happening. I think at that same time, we live in a very skeptical political environment on both sides. So we're asking our selves, well what's being done about this, why isn't more progress being made, why aren't we coming up with more innovative policies to address gun violence. And so, I think the conversation now, is continuing in a way that, perhaps, hasn't. Even after Vegas, even after Sandy Hook, even after Charleston. You know, even after we see summer after summer of tragedies in Chicago. So I think that this movement that we're in, particularly the student led movement, has some staying power.

Lori Walsh:                           

So, there's a guest representing the NRA, and john, I'm wondering do you see that as, do you come thinking this is a debate, is the NRA the enemy, it the NRA a partner? What's their role in this conversation?

John Gruber:                       

That's a really great question. So the first thing is no, the NRA in not the horrible, horrible enemy. I think the NRA, most NRA members, when you actually poll them, when you actually explain what gun violence prevention stands for and what we're actually asking, they are with us. They agree that we shouldn't just be handing out guns to people that have no business having them. But I think that the corporate gun lobby, so the gun manufacturers have a lot of sway, in the legislative priorities of the NRA, right? So they are the ones, that are very directly, in charge of what's going on in the NRA, and where their legislative priorities are, and they are responsible for a lot of the things that we're seeing in terms of a lack of compromise. Instead of trying to say, how do we keep guns out of schools, there saying, put guns in schools, right? Or when we're talking about assault weapons bans or anything like that. There is no compromise, because mainly the gun manufacturers, are the NRA's biggest donor. Obviously the NRA has changed a lot since it was originally founded, but I think that there is always room for dialogue. You know what I mean, in any type of politics, and particularly in the gun violence movement, we don't have enough dialogue. So I don't think this is a debate, I think of it as kind of a presentation of ideas, and I leave it up to the very, capable students to decide which ideas make more sense, and which ideas they want to learn more about.

Lori Walsh:                           

Alisha, let's talk a little bit more about those students, because this is a South Dakota school, I'm sure you have students from all over the country, but many kids from South Dakota, will end up at Dakota Wesleyan, with a hunting tradition, or being raised on conversations in this state about the second amendment. Many of their families voted for Trump, how are they coming, are they coming at this conversation from a unique position, or strictly South Dakota position, or do you see some of those boundaries falling away, and they're really coming at it with a connection to students across the country. What are your thoughts.

Alisha Vincent:                  

I think a couple things. I think, yes, the reality is a lot of our students come from very traditional, conservative, backgrounds here on our campus. I always say, if we had a hunting and fishing club, it would be our most well attended student club on campus. I think our students, we have a lot of very responsible gun owners on our campus as well. And that's something that, you know, I think we're proud of a campus. We have a lot of responsible, mature students here, and I think that they're going to come to this event next week, but not necessarily to affirm some position that they have. I do, again, believe that our students are open to hearing other sides of an issue, and I think they will come and listen, and be very perceptive about what they're hearing. Of course, they'll probably go home and talk to their parents, and their loved ones about the conversations that they are having. I do think that they will come from different perspectives on Wednesday, to hear and to really listen, and that's something that we definitely are going to encourage as well. Hopefully, they'll go out into their communities with a greater appreciation of what it means to really engage with different perspectives, and wrestle with their own.

Lori Walsh:                           

John Gruber, what are your thoughts, you used the word misunderstanding. It seems to me, that sometimes the NRA can be misunderstood, the Gun Violence Prevention Movement can be misunderstood. When there is a mass shooting, certain people do dig in their heels and say, well we're absolutely not going to talk about this, because that's not the problem, it's a different problem. How do you recommend getting past those initial barriers that many people, maybe all of us put up in some ways, and say that would never work, because of this, and to that point where everybody comes to the table, and everybody says this is not what we want to happen, but this is how we have to put our resources together to come up with some real solutions. Is that part of the challenge, as you see it?

John Gruber:                       

I think that the first thing we want to do, is start with a base of respect, right? So even if I don't agree with you, I still respect you, I still respect the second amendment. I think that, that knocks down one immediate barrier, that I think kind of gets created, just because I don't want gun violence, or if I'm a gun violence prevention activist, I suddenly get categorized with anti second amendment. So I think really kind of defining, what I'm seeking to do, and what we're all seeking to do as a society, is really important. So when I put that into perspective for what we're going to be talking about in South Dakota, I think, you know, like you just said Alisha, they're hunting and fishing background; what we are focused on are not the guns being used to go hunting. What we are focused on, are the guns being used to commit atrocities like school shootings, or everyday domestic violence, or people that are really suicidal or mentally ill and what we need to do is help them out by removing guns temporarily from their household. And when we talk about it in ways that we're talking about helping people, and we put in the people element, I think that that really creates a bridge. One of the other things I worked on at Brady for a long time, was the Ask Campaign, right? Which is just the idea, if you have a gun, that's fine, that's great, we're not going take it away, we just want you to lock it up so your kids don't get their hands on it, and then end up shooting someone or themselves. And I've talked to some many parents, whose killer kid got picked on at school one day, came home knew where the gun was and blew their brains out. And that's so preventable, right? So when we talk about gun violence, I think what we really want to do, is talk about what we want to achieve, and I think that everyone would agree, that 17 high schoolers, or 92 people a day, or all the gun violence that happens on the south side of Chicago, or whether you're going to a night club, a movie theater, or church, we should all feel safe. And we should try and stop those incidences from happening, and if there is common sense ways to do this, then I think that most people would agree.

Lori Walsh:                           

John, I only have about ... John, I'm going to interrupt you here, because I only have about a minute left, and there's an important question I want to ask you, and that's about research. We've done lots of conversations on this program, after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. One of the themes, that has come up again and again, is the challenge of, the ban on research of the CDC, to actually find out what's effective and what's not? Are you finding that that's a challenge, or do you think that there's enough research in the private sector to fill in those gaps, so we will know some best practices for what can be done?

John Gruber:                       

I think that that's a huge problem, and I think that that's something that we need to take down, because if you look at the ban on research, there is nothing else that is banned from being researched, the way gun violence is. There is no other public health crisis that claims as many lives, that is being banned from research. So we absolutely need to take that down, and honestly, we're seeing more bi partisan support for that now, then we ever have before. So I think that that's a really good step in a positive direction.

Alisha Vincent:                  

And I think, I want to agree. I know that we're going to be talking about mental health to, and you had asked the question about student engagement, and I think students really want to know, and they want to know more about what they're facing in terms of that aspect as well. And looking at their peers and try and figure out ways, how do we all do this responsibly, engage in a healthy society with one another in a way that's responsible and ethical, and that we're really hearing from each other. So we want to look at that to, on Wednesday night.

Lori Walsh:                           

The event is called Triggers, A Critical Conversation about Guns and Mental Health in America. It's at Dakota Wesleyan University, in Mitchell. Free, open to the public, Sherman Center, 6:30 to 8:00pm, next Wednesday, March 14th. That's all central time.

 

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