Panel addresses gun violence issues

In the past 19 years of campaigning against crime and violence, Gordon Rondeau has sat on a few panels much like the one he was included in Monday night.

“Forgive me if am a bit pessimistic about this,” he told a crowd of about 100 gathered at Georgia Regents University’s Maxwell Theatre.

Rondeau, who daughter Renée was numbered among the more than 900 homicide victims in Chicago in 1994, wondered aloud when the United States would make the connection between the ready availability of guns in this country and the corresponding rate of gun violence.

“Have we not learned anything in the last 19 years?” he asked.

Rondeau, and his wife Elaine, were among a panel gathered to discuss gun violence in America and the possibility of legislation to curb it. Members of the panel included Dr. Richard Schwartz, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Medical College of Georgia, Augusta District Attorney Ashley Wright, Superior Court Judge Danny Craig, U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver and others.

Rondeau said he supported the Second Amendment right of people to own guns, but thought there was room for some restrictions.

“Why can’t the Second Amendment coexist with sensible laws that are meant to keep guns out of the wrong hands – that’s criminals, crazy people and kids?” he said.

Craig countered in his opening statement that any such law meant to reduce the number of guns has little chance of being passed and would likely have little effect considering how many firearms already are in the hands of the populous, which he estimated at 500 to 700 million weapons.

“It’s not realistic,” he said. “We have a lot of liberties, but there is a price to pay for all these liberties we have.”

Among those liberties are freedom of expression, which allows graphically violent depictions of crime and antisocial behavior to be disseminated over the airwaves and through the Internet with very little restriction, Craig said.

He said people also need to understand the effects those types of images have on behavior, especially young minds who are exposed to them.

All panelists agreed that more needed to be done to address some of the root causes of crime and violence, such as the lack of availability of mental health care. Craig said a change in the law in 1992 “waved a magic wand” over the institutionalized mentally ill and said “you are healed.”

He said most of those people are in Georgia’s prison system now.

“Everybody says someone should do something about the mentally ill,” said Wright. “But who is the someone, and what is the something?”

Rondeau said until more is done to solve the basic problems that pull people into criminal behavior, we can expect the same results.

He said the two people who stalked, robbed and killed his daughter came from a neighborhood on Chicago’s west side – “a place devoid of any human possibility of opportunity.”

He said they made terrible decisions that led them to a life of crime and the death of his daughter, but considering where they came from, it would have been a surprise had they turned out any different.

“The good news is that we caught them,” he said. “The bad news is that there are more like them coming, and a lot more.”

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