The Journal Gazette
Friday, March 30, 2018 1:00 am

IPFW experts explore gun issue

No pro-and-con, but legal, social aspects get examined


Many times, talk about what to do about guns in America breaks down into two camps – those in favor of gun control and those against it.

That wasn't the case Thursday at IPFW.

Instead, a noon panel discussion sponsored by the campus Honors Program was organized around areas of expertise – with a panel that included professors of law, political science and anthropology, the campus police chief and a student activist involved in the recent school shootings movement. 

Panelists didn't get mired in pro-and-con. But they did explain gun issues, try to ascertain how the nation became so divided and drive discussion beyond entrenched positions.

Georgia Wralstad Ulmschneider, associate profession of political science and pre-law adviser, explained that until 2008, Supreme Court cases about the Second Amendment right to bear arms were few – and courts assumed it was a collective right, not an individual right.

That did not fully change until a case in 2010 established a right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, she said.

But those cases were narrowly framed, and now, various federal district courts have rendered differing opinions based on assumptions and interpretations, she said.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has refused to hear a case, she said.

“So I would say it's kind of a mess because Supreme Court opinions are written around specific cases, and opinions are what we call a 'negotiated text' because (other justices) have to sign on to an opinion,” Ulmschneider said.

IPFW Police Chief Tim Potts said police training has changed in light of recent mass shootings.

Previously, he said, police were trained to wait until a SWAT team arrived to confront an active shooter. Now, a single officer might have to do the job alone if first on a scene, he said. And rules on a campus may be stricter than in the community at large, he said.

Lawrence Kuznar, IPFW assistant professor of anthropology, said what some call the “gun culture” is actually a subculture – and not monolithic.

One division, he said, is between the old culture of hunters and sport shooters who, in the 1960s and '70s saw a gun as a tool for specific tasks usually done by men and the “new” culture. 

It seems to equate having and using a military-style gun as a badge of power or masculinity, he said.

“Now when you go into a gun store, the first guns you see are assault rifles,” Kuznar said.

“It seems almost an inversion of what masculinity is all about. Today it's almost the gun makes a man, and that, to me, is a sea change.

“I think that young men (today) don't have guidance how to grow up to be a man, and that's a complicated thing” to address, he added.

Michael Wolf, chairman of the political science department, explained how changing demographics within political parties and the growth of special-interest politics are mirrored in today's debate over guns.

Many people in favor of unrestricted gun policy today see guns as providing personal safety, while those favoring gun control see them as a personal danger, Wolf said.

“People don't feel safe with the other side's argument,” he said. “It's a threat to them. ... People are throwing horrible caricatures around.”

But there are restrictions on guns taken by people who favor gun rights, he said – for example, a ban on high-count magazines.

IPFW student Brandon Blumenherst said the student movement is moving beyond mass demonstrations.

Students are now contacting local and state and federal legislators for specific action, such as tightening criminal background checks, that would “provide common ground” with gun rights supporters and be “a step forward.” 

But common ground may prove hard to find because the issues are so complex, said Kaleb Eash, 23, of Fort Wayne, who was in the audience.

A local rookie policeman, Eash said he served in the military and grew up in the new gun culture.

When he entered the military, “I thought I knew about guns,” he said. “They taught me I was wrong.”

Most people aren't educated about guns and how to handle them, he said.  

“I think it's not a 'gun' issue,” he said. “I think it's a social issue. We're failing as far as parenting, and in the schools, as an educational issue. And it's a mental health issue,” he said.

But discussion is “good for our country,” Wolf said, adding he's hopeful “real ideas, real issues,” will eventually win out.

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