During a gathering this past February, members of the UMBC community gained new perspectives and exchanged dialogue on the topic of guns in America.
The event is part of the Student Government Association’s Between Elections: Coffee and Conversation series, created to promote political engagement in the campus through civil discussion. In each installment of the series, students are joined by a panel of commentators and industry experts from across the political spectrum.
Over 70 people participated in the occasion, which was the largest turnout of any Coffee and Conversation event thus far. “We are incredibly proud of the turnout for this conversation. Moments like [the event on] last Thursday is what really makes UMBC, UMBC,” says Collin Sullivan, a junior information systems and economics student who helped set up the gathering.
During the first half of the two hour congregation, the five panelists answered questions and provided additional commentary pertaining to the topic at hand. Later, students would engage in freeform discussion within small groups, guided by discussion moderators, before having the opportunity to posit their own questions to the panelists.
Statements made by the panelists reflected their diverse views and experiences. One of the panelists was Rich Gibson, Jr., who is the Assistant State’s Attorney in Baltimore City. During the discussions, he mentioned that the Second Amendment had historically been interpreted differently, with the right to bear arms only applying in connection with service in a militia. He added, “This wasn’t the case prior to the [landmark District of Columbia v. Heller] ruling… it wasn’t the consensus for over 200 years.”
Other panelists concerned themselves less with the legal status of guns and focused on other matters. Jonathan Danko, the president of the UMBC Rifle and Pistol Club, and senior computer science major, is one of these people. “They’re a part of American culture,” he said, and suggested education on firearm safety as a way to mitigate the threat surrounding guns. David Dannessa, a gun rights advocate, similarly agreed, while Liz Banach, an anti-gun violence activist, and Amy Berbert, a UMBC alum who photographs homicide scenes in Baltimore, offered competing viewpoints.
Despite this, the panel members remained entirely civil in their conversation and were able to agree on various general matters. Following the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida a week ago, the panelists were united in their willingness to reflect on the incident and find ways to prevent similar actions from happening again.
Like the panel members, the students held a variety of viewpoints; many of them came from differing political student organizations such as the College Republicans, College Democrats, UMBC Progressives, and the Constitutional Retrievers.
The questions they gave to the panel members were similarly varied: one student asked about how to ensure safety on campus, another questioned whether open and/or concealed carry policies represented “positive or negative externalities,” and yet another asked to examine how gender biases could affect gun culture in the country.
The discussions formally concluded after two hours; however, the crowd was slow to disperse as many students and panel members stayed around for longer to resume their conversations.
Between Elections was formed after the 2016 Election Night Extravaganza by active members of the SGA and various political student organizations. Students can keep up with new events by following the SGA and being aware of announcements and postings around campus and on myUMBC.