A boisterous crowd packed the Vanderbilt Room at Asheville’s DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel for a Jan. 29 debate on gun policy.
A boisterous crowd packed the Vanderbilt Room at Asheville’s DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel for a Jan. 29 debate on gun policy. Moderator Charu Kumarhia, a former WLOS reporter, repeatedly had to ask the audience to refrain from cheering and jeering.
The principals, however — Montreat College history professor William Forstchen and local activist Ned Ryan Doyle — conducted a spirited but generally civilized debate.7 After seeing them spar over the issue on Facebook, co-hosts Agnes Cheek and Matt Mittan of Independent Asheville Radio invited the two to square off .
Organized as part of Cheek and Mittan’s Take a Stand Speaker Series, the broadly themed dialogue covered topics ranging from arming teachers to funding for mental health care. More than 70 people attended, said Cheek, and several law-enforcement officers, including Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan, were on hand to ensure order, noted Mittan.
It wasn’t an unwarranted precaution: Several audience members grew heated over the course of the evening, particularly during the question-and-answer period. After one speaker who blamed support for gun control on “lies in the media” was cut short by Kumarhia, the crowd reacted with cries of “Let him speak!”
Unarmed and naked
After winning a coin toss, Forstchen spoke first. He began by saying he hoped to walk away having reached “points of consensus” with Doyle. Next, however, came what he called an “angry statement” about the disparity between elected officials’ security and that of the general public.
“We are in the middle of a national debate about the Second Amendment,” said Forstchen, “focused primarily on the protection of our children. ... All our children are equal. Therefore, I do get disturbed when some government officials lecture me about [firearms] while their children go to the most secure schools in the country.”
Attacking the idea of gun-free zones, Forstchen said he “feels naked” in such insecure environments.
Forstchen went on to advocate allowing teachers who were willing, able and “highly trained” to carry firearms on school grounds.
“I am completely in favor of teachers — from kindergarten on through college — carrying concealed [firearms] or having rapid access,” he revealed.
Doyle, however, whose left-leaning talk show “Our Southern Community” is also on Independent Asheville Radio, quickly rejected that idea, calling it “an emotional reaction, not a realistic solution. It’s a bad idea, due to the inevitable risk: It’s not if there might be an accident if our teachers were armed, it’s a matter of how many new accidents there will be. Are we to expect that none of the guns would be stolen or lost on school property?”
And safety aside, Doyle argued that the time, expense and energy devoted to arming teachers would detract from efforts to get to the root of the matter.
“Who pays for the guns and training on a continuing basis?” he wondered, adding, “We have a lot of better ideas to address the core problems, not just react to the end results.”
Forstchen’s rebuttal was pointed: “I am a teacher. I’ve taught from fifth grade all the way through graduate school. I also have a permit to carry. I’ve been trained since childhood in firearms. I, as an American citizen, have a right to protect myself. I, as a teacher, have a moral obligation to protect ... every child that I teach.”
As far apart as they were on that question, however, they found common ground when discussing America’s culture of violence as a root cause of mass shootings.
“We have been violent since before our own country was even founded,” Doyle declared. “The genocide of the Native Americans and slavery are just two examples. As a nation, we’ve been in one war or another for something like 218 of 239 years. We are the world’s largest weapons manufacturer and supplier and are the most heavily armed nation on earth.”
Forstchen agreed, proclaiming, “We have reduced violence to entertainment; that is the cancer in our society today. I call it the pornography of violence.”
Policymakers, he added, seem to ignore the media’s penchant for depicting violence. “And that seems to be off the shelf, in terms of the discussion that our vice president led a couple weeks ago about ‘What are the problems and how do we address it?’”
“We’re in full agreement,” he concluded, addressing Doyle.
Promoting mental health
“So what’s the answer?” asked Kumarhia, pointing out that violence in the media is protected by the First Amendment.
“Yes, we have freedom of speech,” countered Doyle, “but there are limitations on that.”
Both debaters said the answer lies in personal relationships, particularly parenting and community involvement. “How do we work together to pull ourselves back out of this abyss?” wondered Forstchen.
The debate concluded with both men advocating increased funding for treating mental illness.
“This is one of the few issues where I’d say I think we need more funding,” said Forstchen, though he stopped short of endorsing limits on gun ownership based on mental health, citing historical examples of governments labeling dissidents as insane.
Mental health, Doyle agreed, is essential “for communities and societies as a whole, especially in schools. One of the aspects of almost all the school shooters: They went to those schools and knew the people there. Maybe they could have been prevented if they had better health services up front.”
Max Cooper can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 145, or at email@example.com.