By Analeigh Hughes

“I think in some way shape or form I think we can all say gun violence has impacted this country. And not for the best,” said Selena Rawlley, moderator of Maryland Discourse’s Finding Solutions to Gun Violence panel, in her opening remarks.

The panel was held on Thursday, April 26 in Jimenez Hall. In keeping with Maryland Discourse being a nonpartisan political group, the panel members had a range of beliefs and ideologies.

Discourse started talking about hosting this event before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, however once it happened “it just kind of showed us that this is a conversation that needed to be had,” said executive board member Savanna Wright, a sophomore microbiology major.

Although the intended structure of the debate was supposed to be introductions, questions aimed at singular panel members, group questions and then questions from the audience, this quickly changed. Interjections and supplemental information from other panel members led to all the questions being open to all panelists to answer.

One of the panelists, Liz Banach, was preparing for her daughter’s third birthday party while her husband took their kids to what she believed was the mall. After she got a call from a family member about an active shooter at the mall, she tried to get in touch with her husband. Eventually, she found out that they ended up not going to the mall, but the experience led her to get involved in the crusade against gun violence.

“Our story ended well, but for three other families it was a tragedy,” said Banach.

Mass shootings “are less than 2 percent of the national issue and get 99 percent of the press coverage,” according to Banach. She tries to focus her work on people disproportionately affected by gun violence–young people of color and suicides.

Pro-gun panelists Stephen Gutowski and Deborah Rey spoke about Americans’ unfamiliarity with guns and how it may distort the debate on gun violence.

“Differences are rather important when you’re talking about legislation, but confusing to the average person,” said Gutowski, who is a reporter for the Washington Free Beacon. He’s recently focused his career on informing other reporters on the definitions of automatic rifles, semi-automatic rifles and assault weapons so that they can better report on the topic.

Maryland House of Delegates member Deborah Rey encouraged people to read and understand the policies surrounding gun ownership and violence before making statements on gun reform.

“I think it’s interesting that in a debate people say ‘we need gun control, we need gun control’ but they don’t know the law,” said Rey, a delegate from St. Mary’s County.

Maryland House of Delegates member Joseline Peña-Melnyk voiced her belief that we need to put definitions aside and focus on the fact that the United States has more mass shootings than any other country.

“Why is it for you–and I’ve been through it–to adopt a kitten, you have to go through a lot more than you do to buy a gun,” she said.

Peña-Melnyk also spoke of a bill that would ban guns on higher education campuses. Although it passed in the House of Delegates, it did not pass in the Senate. However, she is still confident it will eventually get passed.

“I will bet every dollar I have that you’ll see it next year,” she said.

“It’s never going to be down to zero” said School of Public Health Dean and former Attorney General Boris Lushniak when speaking about gun-related deaths. He also referred to the common debate of whether guns kill people or people kill people,saying that there are factors with both concepts that play into this issue.

Despite disputes between panelists for the majority of the evening, ideologies were eventually put aside to discuss how we can find solutions to this issues.

Banach agreed with Rey’s belief that laws don’t make a difference if they’re not enforced or prosecuted in court. She offered to work with Rey next year on the definition of transferring gun ownership.

The panel drew students from across campus.

Senior Jesse Rao, a government and politics and economics double major, came to the event because gun policy is important to him and he enjoys the conversations at Discourse events. He was hoping to learn more about gun usage in the country and how gun violence can be reduced.

“I think I definitely learned more about different studies that were cited and about the different laws that are on-hand and where there needs to be improvement and what progress has been made,” he said.

Senior David Snyder, an aerospace engineering and economics double major noted the importance of having a balanced panel.

“I liked the general notion of it because you’re going to get some back and forth,so people will be more willing to cite where they’re coming from, so then you can evaluate the sources and evaluate that accordingly,” he said.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Discourse’s Facebook page.

Analeigh Hughes is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at analeigh@terpmail.umd.edu.

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