By Rachel Milkovich
This past Thursday, I was fortunate enough to receive tickets to attend the Anderson Cooper 360 Town Hall at a familiar venue, the Jack Morton Auditorium in the School of Media and Public Affairs. An invaluable opportunity to view the taping of such a reputable program, the topic of the town hall was gun control, an issue of importance to me.Cooper introduced a series of prominent guests, including Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign, and Sandy Froman, a National Rifle Association board member. The Brady campaign is a nonprofit organization with the mission to create a gun-free America; there was noticeable tension on stage between Gross and Froman. I additionally enjoyed listening to Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting and a documentarian.
However, to me Cooper’s most interesting guests included the diverse voices sitting in the audience. It is easy enough to discuss policymaking toward gun control, but the people who have been directly affected by the issue offer a significant perspective.
Liza Long, the writer of an influential blog post, "I am Adam Lanza’s Mother," written shortly after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, exposed an underlying outlook on incidents of gun violence – mental health. It is widely known that a disposition toward aggressive behavior has linked each one of the public shootings in recent years. Yet, Long's article pointed out the lack of resources for parents who see the signs of a violent child.
"I just feel like there's no transitional space between that acute care facility and jail. And that's certainly been the case with my son. He's 13 years old. He's already been in juvenile detention four times," said Long.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, agreed and stated that unfortunately most family members of the individuals who commit these horrible crimes did try to seek help for their conditions. It seems that a discussion of the stigmatization of mental health is finally gaining attention, however as a society, we are still unsure of how to deal with the issue itself.
A prominent issue of the town hall was a conversation about universal background checks on guns. Froman, a former NRA president, took the position that background checks were an injustice to law-abiding citizens, citing that most instances of gun violence are caused by those who obtain their weapons illegally. Although universal background checks would lead to a public record of all citizens who own guns, a poll cited by Gross stated that the majority of NRA members were not opposed to background checks.
A portion of the background check is allocated toward an evaluation of the gun owner's mental health. Currently, many states share a database of mental health records to cross-reference with a database of gun owners. Although enforcement of background checks in general needs to be improved, I find that there is a fundamental problem with relying on mental health records.
As Long states in her blog, the only way for a victim of mental illness to make it into state records is for them to be charged with a crime or placed in an institution for evaluation. This means that individuals with no previous or prevalent incidents of behavioral violence could theoretically obtain a gun. For individuals like Long's son, aggressive symptoms can only be considered speculative.
There is still much to be learned about what can be done to prevent these tragedies from a mental health perspective, but until then I personally am in favor of universal background checks and improvements to that system. I was lucky to be able to speak to Long during one of the program breaks, as she was sitting a row behind me. There was enough time only for me to thank her and tell her how much her article affected me.
As much of a rush it was to meet Anderson Cooper in person, I appreciated his fairness and respectful approach to such an important debate.
By Ellie Cohen
I loved having the privilege to attend the Anderson Cooper town hall. Being seated in the very front row gave me insight about the process of producing the show. Having been seated nearly an hour before the show began, we were able to see some of the pre-taping setup. We watched the different cameras perfect their angles and fine-tune their equipment. The producer spoke to us about audience etiquette as well as looking for signals to give applause. After several rounds of practiced clapping, Anderson came on stage!
He began by welcoming all of us and then filming the opening segment of the show. His first guests were combative, and he probed them with deeper questioning "to get past simply talking points." His follow-up questions were strong, not letting his guests shy away from answers, and served as a strong example of journalism.
The guests among the audience, who were all chosen to speak for the unique view point or story they possessed, brought the debate to life, beyond simply the spokespeople on stage. Each contributed a meaningful and passionate story or anecdote about their views on gun control.
The best part of the show was the end. In between filming different sign-offs and teasers to throw the show to other CNN anchors, he answered our questions in a funny and honest way. No, he won't be GW's new mascot; he was rooting for Beyonce at the Super Bowl; and he would consider being a commencement speaker but doesn't know how to make a fourth commencement address unique. It was a truly remarkable experience, which I will remember long after the gun control debate slips out of the spotlight and I have graduated from GW.
For more information about the town hall, please click here.