As the Senate voted against a measure to expand background checks — a policy supported by a vast majority of Americans — Mark Kelly addressed a crowd in Irvine Auditorium.
“There is an inherent fallacy in the efforts of the gun lobby to make gun laws across this country more and more permissive,” said the former astronaut and husband of Gabrielle Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in an assassination attempt in 2011.
“The NRA leadership and other affiliated groups have backed measures to allow guns into every corner of our society,” he said.
Kelly was the keynote speaker of “Finding Common Ground: Moving Forward,” a conference on gun violence and policy hosted by the School of Social Policy & Practice on Wednesday afternoon.
“When it comes to guns and gun violence, you don’t hear the truth very much. After all, it’s not really useful to tell the truth if you want to make money or extract donations,” Kelly added.
It is exactly this problem that the conference set out to address, SP2 professor and event organizer Susan Sorenson said. “When you turn on the news, it looks like there’s disagreement everywhere. But when you look at what the American people think and what the American people say they want, it’s an amazing agreement,” she said.
Packing statistics and storytelling into every second, the event featured a talk by Harvard public health professor Matthew Miller and a screening of “Living for 32,” a movie about Virginia Tech massacre survivor and gun control advocate Colin Goddard, who was also in attendance.
Miller’s discussion of empirical research on gun violence and ownership noted that while mass murders such as those at Virginia Tech and Newtown get the most media attention, most firearm deaths in the United States are suicides.
“People who live in homes with guns are at much higher risk of dying by suicide,” Miller said. “This risk is not trivial — two to 10 times higher depending on the group you’re talking about and how the guns were stored.”
Calling his position “neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, [but] pro-data,” Miller said the statistics show that the only difference that could account for the high level of gun deaths in the United States versus other comparable countries is the rate of gun ownership.
“We are obliged to act on what we already know,” he said.
Kelly and his wife have spent the past several months meeting with members of Congress to push them to pass gun-control legislation. He lauded the efforts of Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R.) and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D.) in proposing the universal background check amendment to a broader package of gun policy reform. Not surprised that the measure failed, he said he did not think Congress would pass any gun reform this term.
He hoped, however, that the legislation would receive a vote in the House of Representatives.
“The families of Newtown deserve a vote and I think all the victims of gun violence around this country deserve that,” Kelly told The Daily Pennsylvanian after the event. “The American people who support it deserve to see it voted on.”
The House version of the bill, which is supported by several Pennsylvania representatives, would be unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled House.
Attendees reacted positively to the event.
“Mark Kelly was very good at balancing both sides,” College freshman Varun Menon said. “I thought Colin Goddard’s story was very incredible. I was very happy to see the movie and to see him speak because his perspective is vital to a conversation like this.”
Social work student Kelsey Colburn, who is studying at Penn for the semester, found the conference very informative. “It’s a huge topic today and all of my friends are arguing about it, so I may as well learn something,” she said. “I do think that universally we can all agree that there are certain people that we don’t want to have guns and it’s kind of bizarre to me that we can’t move forward on that.”