Democratic lieutenant governors, advocates, discuss solutions to prevent gun violence
A disusssion on preventing gun violence included, from left to right: Democratic Lieutentant Governors Association Executive Director Kevin Holst, Everytown for Gun Safety Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Monisha Henley, Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, Former NFL player and gun safety activist Brandon Short, Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos. (Samantha Dietel/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — Six lieutenant governors from across the country joined gun violence prevention advocates to share their stories and offer solutions at a policy discussion event Tuesday.
The Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association hosted the gun violence prevention policy summit, which was the first event of its kind. The DLGA partnered with the gun violence prevention advocacy groups Everytown for Gun Safety, March for Our Lives and Giffords, as well as the labor union American Federation of Teachers, for the event.
Many of the speakers were survivors of gun violence themselves, and shared their stories throughout the panels, which prioritized different angles on the topic of gun violence.
The six lieutenant governors in attendance included Garlin Gilchrist of Michigan, Austin Davis of Pennsylvania, Peggy Flanagan of Minnesota, Aruna Miller of Maryland, Sabina Matos of Rhode Island and David Zuckerman of Vermont.
Kevin Holst, DLGA executive director, moderated the event’s three panels.
The first panel focused on justice for victims of gun violence and holding the firearms industry accountable for its role in perpetuating gun violence, while the second panel highlighted ways to help youth to feel safe in their communities, including at school. The third panel concluded the event by focusing on “disarming” hate.
The panelists discussed policy solutions at the local, state and federal levels. Some called for federal actions such as the tightening of background checks and a national ban on assault weapons.
More broadly, panelists said tackling a variety of issues, such as poverty, access to quality education and more are necessary steps to preventing gun violence.
Gilchrist said gun violence is an issue that “confronts literally every American.”
“There’s not an American you can talk to who does not have some direct connection to the issue of gun violence and doesn’t have an interest in having fewer people die in gun-related deaths,” Gilchrist said.
Guns and democracy
Holst guided the event’s first panel to dissect what he called “the nexus of guns and democracy.”
Speakers at the first panel included Gilchrist, Giffords Law Center Chief Counsel and Vice President Adam Skaggs, Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read and Jessie Ojeda, a guns and democracy attorney fellow at Giffords Law Center.
Gilchrist said that “in the face of this loud and dangerous minority of people who frankly believe more in guns than they do in voting,” it is important to show voters that “this system can be strengthened to be more robust.”
Ojeda said she had two “core” policy suggestions for state legislatures to pass.
First, she called on states to prohibit the open and concealed carrying of guns at or near polling places. She said that 12 states have these types of policies in place.
Her second recommendation was for states to expand anti-intimidation laws to acknowledge firearms.
“No state currently has a law that expressly recognizes the inherent intimidation of firearms at polling places,” Ojeda said.
Gilchrist talked about his experience on April 30, 2020, when armed protestors entered the Michigan State Capitol calling for an end to the state’s COVID-19 safer-at-home order.
He said that at the time, the Michigan Capitol was one of two state capitol buildings in the country that allowed people to bring firearms into the building. That has since changed, he said.
“We still see people sort of bumping up against that policy,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist described seeing people line up — with guns — along both sides of the sidewalk on his usual path into the Capitol building.
Holding the firearm industry accountable
Gilchrist, who highlighted his state’s recent passage of background checks and storage laws, said there “absolutely needs to be accountability” for those who make, manufacture, market and distribute firearms.
Skaggs said the “irresponsible marketing and advertising” of specific gun companies have promoted white supremacist and extremist logos.
“We have gun companies that are kind of appealing to the lowest common denominator, if you want to think of it that way,” Skaggs said.
Skaggs said that because governments are “significant consumers” in the firearm industry, governments should then look at their suppliers. Those suppliers may then, in turn, “hold themselves to higher standards,” Skaggs said.
“I think passing these kinds of laws that open up the courthouse doors to litigation on behalf of victims of gun violence, on behalf of communities that have high rates of gun violence, that really has the opportunity to transform the way the industry behaves,” Skaggs said, “and the standards to which the industry holds itself, and to which we as communities and as a nation hold them to those standards.”
Ojeda said gun companies often target children and young adults in their marketing, and drew a comparison to how tobacco companies have similarly targeted that demographic. This youth-targeted marketing of firearms is unregulated, Ojeda said.
The event’s second panel highlighted survivors of gun violence, including Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence executive director and co-founder Abbey Clements.
“Gun violence lives in classrooms across the country,” said Clements, who is a teacher and survivor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. A gunman entered the school and killed 26 people — 20 students and six adults.
Clements said there is a “love” and “deep connection” between herself and her students who also survived.
“They’re heartbroken, really, with our generation,” Clements said.
Clements raised concerns about how lockdown drills in schools inflict further trauma upon students. She said drills need to be “trauma-informed.”
Davis said that when he was a kid, he had a defining experience with gun violence. There was a shooting outside his home, where he was with his mom.
“I remember the look on her face, and how terrified she was,” Davis said. “And I think that was the first time where she felt like she couldn’t protect us from what were outside forces.”
The impact of gun violence on his community inspired him to get involved with activism.
“As I’ve traveled my entire career, I’ve seen that same look in the face of mothers and community members’ eyes all across Pennsylvania, and really all across this country,” Davis said. “That same feeling of hopelessness, that same feeling of being trapped in a community.”
Davis said that in order to curb gun violence, there need to be greater investments in community-based programs and “attack the root causes of poverty.”
This means investing in education systems and workforce development programs, Davis said.
“We’re only going to tackle this if we take on all those things and take over a comprehensive approach to prevention,” Davis said.
Flanagan said it is important to invest in mental health care for students both inside and outside of school. She said it is also important for schools to have the financial support they need to hire and keep mental health professionals.
Flanagan said her state of Minnesota has spent “hundreds of millions of dollars” on projects based in “communities of color and Indigenous communities.” She said this money was used to create infrastructure for mental health and wellness centers, community organizations and an Olympic-sized swimming pool in Minneapolis to give people opportunities.
“These things matter and it’s also part of how we tackle gun violence prevention by making sure there are robust places in communities, created by communities themselves, to create these spaces where people feel seen, heard and valued, and protected,” Flanagan said.
March for Our Lives board Chair Tre Bosley, who lost his brother to gun violence in 2006, said the government needs to take a “holistic approach to gun violence in Black and brown communities.”
Bosley said violence prevention “looks different” in his community in Chicago. He said his organization took a group of kids “who had never been off their block” to downtown Chicago.
“That’s not gonna be covered by certain policies, certain grants, but that is violence prevention,” Bosley said. “I’m showing them the different side of the city they live in that they would never experience, to make them look at life differently.”
During the third and final panel of the event, panelists discussed the banning of assault weapons, the intersection of domestic violence and gun violence, as well as the repealing of “Stand Your Ground” laws.
This panel included Miller, Matos, Zuckerman and Monisha Henley, the senior vice president of government affairs of Everytown for Gun Safety. Brandon Short, a gun safety activist and former NFL player, also sat on the panel.
Short, who played for the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, turned to activism after his pregnant daughter was shot and killed by her partner.
Homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women, and these deaths are often attributed to firearms, Short said.
Short said there are currently 28 states in which a convicted domestic abuser can own a firearm.
“I don’t think that there should be a state in our union where you should be able to have a firearm and be convicted for hurting a woman,” Short said.
Matos highlighted a law in her state that allows judges to have guns taken away from individuals convicted of domestic violence. She said to other policymakers in the room that if they implement a similar policy, they should make sure this process is automatic. Otherwise, domestic violence survivors may have to request for this to happen.
Henley and Short said that “Stand Your Ground” laws need to be repealed. These laws often allow people to shoot or kill someone when they feel threatened, but this is often difficult to prove, Short said.
Henley said that once gun violence prevention policies are passed, leaders have to do more to “bring stakeholders together” and have public service announcements so that people can know and understand these new laws.
“The last piece is to have a reporting mechanism,” Henley said. “So really understanding how it’s working, so that if you need to do adjustments, you need to learn from it, all those things are existing together.”
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