Friday, February 15, 2013

Crowd fires questions at Cleveland Heights gun debate panel

Panelists at Cleveland Heights Democratic Club program on gun control [L-R]:
Jeffrey Bendix, Tom Schmida, Jeffrey Robertson, Susanna O'Neil and Jim Reese

Last night I attended a panel discussion that was part of the national conversation we are having about gun control and the Second Amendment. I didn’t take any notes because I didn’t go expecting to write about the event. So of course I was fascinated by much of what people said and wished that I had worn my reporting hat. So this post is more impression than careful reporting. But I can announce that the event was videotaped by the redoubtable Richard Stewart of Digizoom Media and should be posted in the near future. I’ll let you know when.

The panel was good. Cleveland Hts. Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson; the city’s acting city manager, Susanna Niermann O’Neil; businessman Jim Reese of the Buckeye Firearms Association; former teachers’ union head Tom Schmida; and local media person Jeffrey Bendix were thoughtful and well-spoken. Chief Robertson and Second Amendment defender Jim Reese were the most interesting panelists from my perspective, possibly because the other three seemed conventional gun regulators.

Cleveland Hts. Police Chief
Jeffrey Robertson
Robertson’s father and grandfather were policemen so his comfort level with guns was ingrained. He seemed to place a great deal of faith in Police Academy firearms training conducted by his department. A lot of citizens sign up for it, he said, one of several steps a person needs to take if he/she wants a concealed carry permit under state law.

I hadn’t met Reese until about an hour before the program. We had spoken over the phone concerning the invitation we had extended Buckeye Firearms to send a representative. We met by pre-arrangement at Panini's on Coventry because I wanted to have an informal discussion with somebody whose experiences and world view likely ran quite counter to my own.

Retired air traffic controller Jim Reese of Vermilion OH
represented Second Amendment defenders at panel discussion
I quickly discovered that Reese is not your stereotypical fire-breathing, flame-throwing gun nut. He’s affable, articulate, educated, a good listener, a student of history, loves nature, can fly a single-engine plane and is a defender of the entire Constitution, not just the parts he likes. He can disagree with you without being disagreeable. He’s not so much into hunting. He kinda makes you wish all 2nd Amendment advocates were so reasonable. The time flew by and we had to scoot to the Heights Community Center for the program.

Club president and moderator Mike Gaynier
State Senator Shirley Smith was an
attentive listener  
The best part of the evening by far was the Q and A, even though moderator Mike Gaynier was well armed with a full magazine of questions to fire at the panel. [SMMH*] He just couldn’t anticipate the life experiences resident in the crowd of about 40 that came to listen and then speak. This was an open-to-all forum sponsored by the Cleveland Heights Democratic Club and people were there from Garfield, Shaker, South Euclid. A guy who entered ahead of me and looked from the back like retired judge Burt Griffin turned out to be, Judge Griffin. And there were clergy, attorneys, physicians, retirees, etc. State Senator Shirley Smith, who has just introduced gun control legislation in the 2013 session of the General Assembly, drew applause.

There was no shortage of questions from the engaged crowd in attendance at last night's discussion on gun control

But those life experiences! There was the woman who was accosted on Lee Road in 1988 and shot in the neck with a .22 that resulted in agonizing recuperation and partial paralysis. There was the family friend of teenager Penny Chang^, who was shot and killed in Shaker Heights by a mentally ill friend. And there was the minister whose congregation has recently attracted a pistol-packing visitor whose  Sunday morning presence has created concerns among fellow worshipers not quite ready for their heavenly rewards. 

And then there was the polymath physician who had a medicine cabinet full of valid statistics and persuasive talking points that flowed like water: about how 2/3 of gun deaths are from suicide, that we as a society are asking the wrong questions in the gun control debate, that the mentally ill are no more prone to commit murder than the rest of us, that the notion that guns make their owner safer is easily shown to be a statistical myth; that the incidence of mass murders — defined as more than four victims — has pretty much held steady over the last 20 years or so [it’s the ubiquitous 24/7 news cycle that has heightened awareness].

The zinger of the night, the observation that cut through all the position taking, came when one questioner pointed out that the professionals, the people with presumably the most situational training in addition to  superior firearms skills, had recently been performing like OK Corralers on speed. This kind suburban Caucasian was of course referring to Cleveland’s finest, the perpetrators of “the perfect chase” that led to the 137-bullet fusillade that ended the lives of two unarmed citizens and will define the careers of at least twenty or so safety officials before all is said and done.

As I said, I’ll let you know when the video is up.

Meanwhile, if you want video about police policy, deadly force policy, chase policy, disciplinary procedures, and the like, you can find source material here, here, and here. That’s where you can find Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Police Chief Michael McGrath, and Cleveland City Council, respectively, holding forth on these and related topics.

* SMMH = Shaking My Metaphorical Head.
^ An earlier version of this post mis-identifed this speaker as the mother of the murdered girl. Thanks to a Real Deal reader for the correction.

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