Mary Ann Jacob, a survivor of the 2012 school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, said she’s a Republican and gun owner, and she can’t believe we’re still having the same conversation about guns six years later.
As Americans process last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, CNN held a town hall on gun violence Wednesday night with survivors of shootings, politicians and others. The National Rifle Association (NRA) declined to participate in CNN’s town hall.
The exhaustion was palpable in the words of survivors of different age groups and political affiliations. Several remarked on how many shootings there had been since the one that changed their lives, and expressed disbelief that more hadn’t been done.
Columbine High School shooting survivor Samuel Granillo said not much is different today than it was 20 years ago. He said he believes the key to progress is finding common ground.
“We all have families, we all have friends, loved ones, we all want to be loved,” he said. “We all want to give love and what makes – what that makes us all is human.”
Searching for solutions
The conversation ranged between obstacles to alleviating gun violence and solutions in light of two recent events.
Just days ago, more than 30 people were killed in shootings in Texas and Ohio. In El Paso, a man shot and killed 22 people at a Walmart after writing a document filled with hatred of immigrants and Latinos, police say. Federal authorities have said they’re treating that shooting as a case of domestic terrorism.
In Dayton, police say a man shot and killed nine people, including his sister, in a nightlife district early Sunday. Police say he had an obsession with violence, and a Twitter account that apparently belonged to him retweeted extreme left-wing and anti-police posts. Police say they’re still trying to determine the motive in the shooting.
Jacob wondered what it would take for the voices from the “radical middle” to be heard on issues such as universal background checks. A Quinnipiac poll from March found 86% of registered voters supported a background check bill passed by the House.
Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney whose brother was killed in gun violence in 1996, said he believes the NRA is to blame for not having “reasonable” gun control laws.
“Everyday, we’re losing people’s lives in this country, losing in our big cities, and those lives seem not to matter to folks in the NRA and others. We lose them often in low-income communities and black and brown communities, and there’s no resources put into understanding those problems, where those guns are coming from, and when we have a mass shooting like this, it highlights it because it puts everyone on the edge, but we don’t have those further conversations,” Gonzalez said.
Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, questioned whether more guns in schools would make children safer.
“I want to see less guns on less people, period,” said Christine Leinonen, the mother of Pulse shooting victim Christopher Leinonen.
At the start of the conversation, moderator Chris Cuomo asked whether more can be done to spot would-be shooters early. Opinions varied among panelists.
David Colbath, a survivor of a church shooting in Sutherland Springs, urged caution in considering that option, and suggested early interventions from concerned relatives or members of the community might be the answer.
Trauma surgeon Joe Sakran dismissed the idea that if we restrict legal access to firearms, “the bad guys” will just find other ways to carry out mass killings. With other weapons, the violence wouldn’t be as lethal, he said.
“Look what happened in Dayton. I mean a 100-round drum, 32 seconds, nine dead, a number injured. You cannot do that in such a short amount of time. So, I think that theory is false,” he said.
“It’s the access to firearms that we have,” he said. He pointed to countries like Japan, which have violent video games but low levels of gun violence.
“We’re talking about a public health crisis,” he added.
CNN’s Eric Levenson contributed to this report.