When asked why guns were selected as the evening’s topic, Weinberg freshman Georgios Kepertis, who helped organize the event, noted the universality of gun related problems throughout the world.
“It’s a topic that affects everyone who lives in the United States [and] it’s a problem in many countries,” he said.
To ease into what Kepertis referred to as a delicate topic, ISA opened the night with a video: SNL’s recent parody featuring Amy Schumer, “Guns”. However, what began as an evening filled with laughter and cupcakes soon transitioned to a much more serious debate.
Providing an international perspective, guest speaker and McCormick junior Edwin Argueta discussed how guns and gun violence touched his life growing up in Honduras.
According to Argueta, until recently, Honduras was classified as the most violent country in the world, with 80% of murders involving the usage of firearms.
“The [Honduran] constitution doesn’t say anything about citizens having the right to bear arms,” Argueta said, saying this may account for the difference in gun culture between Honduras and the United States, where the right to gun ownership is guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
However, he said that just because citizens do not have a guaranteed right to guns in Honduras does not mean that they do not think that they need them. For many Hondurans, gun ownership is seen as one of the only sources of protection on streets plagued with gangs and drug-related violence.
Argueta said that people don’t trust the police forces, as many are linked to and take bribes from the drug cartels. To illustrate his point, he shared the story of a relative, who, immediately after a car accident, was threatened at gunpoint as she stepped out of her vehicle. When she went to the police to report the incident, she came face to face with her attacker: a member of the police force. Without trustworthy law enforcement to maintain order, people in Honduras may see guns as a way to give power back to the people.
“They don’t want to feel like they’re amputated in the fight against crime,” Argueta said.
As the discussion transitioned to the United States, however, many students described guns as something engrained in American culture rather than a source of protection. They said that guns are perceived as a part of national identity and therefore, changing gun related policy can be very difficult.
McCormick sophomore Igor Alfimov noted that policymakers would have to sacrifice their reputations in order to make any real progress. In a culture obsessed with the Second Amendment, if you try to take peoples’ guns away, “you’re not getting elected again,” Alfimov said.
When asked for suggestions for how to reform gun policy in the United States, the majority of students agreed that small steps were necessary. Some of these possible steps included institutional changes, like federally regulated checks, stricter requirements for those purchasing guns and mental health exams.
Aside from these shifts in policy, Argueta also highlighted a need for a shift in perspective. In his opinion, it is important to separate youth from violence through education in order to prevent them from joining gangs. As he witnessed in Honduras, many children do not have other opportunities, and therefore, are swept into this sort of gun-dominant culture.
While the evening’s conversation did not result in a unanimous decision on how to approach gun reform, it did achieve ISA’s goal for the event: an open dialogue.
“People sometimes have very strong opinions,” Kepertis said of gun policy, but it is “definitely an interesting topic to discuss.”