‘Safe Communities Safe Schools’ panel ignites discussion, debate on gun reform

The parking lot and auditorium of Lincoln High School were equally filled to the brim on Thursday, April 5, as countless people gathered for the “Safe Communities Safe Schools” panel on gun violence, sponsored by Lincoln Public Schools, Lincoln Journal Star and Lincoln Community Foundation.

Once the event launched at 7 p.m., Joe Starita, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and moderator of the event, introduced the eight panel members.

The panelists included Lincoln Police Department Chief Jeff Bliemeister, superintendent of LPS Steve Joel, Lincoln City Council member Leirion Gaylor Baird, president of “Parents United for Greater School Security,” Korey Reiman, John Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church, executive director of Child Guidance Center Katie McLeese Stephenson, member of Lincoln School Board Connie Duncan and Lincoln High School student Maia Ramsey.

Before the microphones were opened up to audience members, each of the panelists shared their views on the current situation involving gun laws.

Reiman started it off, saying all we’ve done is argue, and while they are great arguments, they are not solving the problem of increasing safety for children. According to Reiman, he and his organization don’t take a side on the argument.

Baird spoke next, expressing her gratitude for Lincoln’s safe environment, but also pointing out the disturbing rise of mass shootings throughout the country.

“We’re lucky that in Lincoln, we’re a community where violent gun crime is on the decline,” Baird said.

In addition to gun violence, other panelists brought up points about mental health and how it plays a role in shootings.

There is room for improvement in providing appropriate training to make sure we keep many eyes on people or students struggling with mental health, Joel said.

According to Stephenson, one in five students will have serious mental health issues, but not all people with mental illness are violent. She lists four components that will help these students: sense of belonging, building coping strategies, resilience and access to mental health services.

Once the panelists wrapped up their initial arguments, two mics, one on each side of the auditorium, were opened to the audience. Lines instantly formed.

Sarah Albright, a mother of two elementary-level boys, said she was grateful for being able to send her children to school, but wanted to know if there are safety plans that extend outside of school, such as sporting events.

Baird said the coalition to enhance school safety and security will require contribution from everyone, as well as large investments of time and money.

Another audience speaker and member of Watchdogs of Lincoln Government Digging up Truth, Jane Kinsey, spoke about how people are straying away from the true issue, in which schools don’t need more money to solve gun violence. This sparked a few comments of disagreement from a passionate crowd. Kinsey pointed out how there were more resource officers in the past than present, as well as how the school system is preparing to have a bond issue.

“The bottom line is who’s going to pay for it?” Kinsey said.

When LPS teacher Paul Smith reached his turn to speak, he said he was “representing his conscience.”

According to Smith, children look to adults as role models and more kids’ voices are needed. Upon saying he will not carry a gun, Smith received vigorous applause and shouts of approval from the audience.

A handful of other attendees were able to speak and hear feedback and rebuttals from panelists about points they were trying to make.

Starita put his role as moderator to work as people in the crowd grew anxious over the end of the event approaching and time running out to speak and have their opinions heard.

By 9 p.m., “Safe Communities Safe Schools” came to a close, even though many people remained in line to talk. As the audience prepared to leave the auditorium, Starita thanked everyone for their attendance and contribution.

The town hall meeting sparked a roller coaster of emotion and passion though its extensive discussion and debate on gun control and gun violence. However, this is far from the end of the conversation.

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