Berkshire Forum Focuses on Gun Violence

Apr 26, 2013

A community discussion in the Berkshires Thursday focused on gun violence revealed a range of opinions that mirrors the debate at the national level.

The gun violence forum, hosted by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, brought together members of the public on both sides of the gun control debate, and three guest speakers.

Clarence Fanto, a writer for the Berkshire Eagle, gave the statistics on gun violence to illustrate the need for more gun control laws, Stockbridge police chief Richard Wilcox answered questions concerning gun regulations and law enforcement, and Peter McBride, a gun rights activist from Pittsfield, spoke against the priority of state governments including New York and Massachusetts, and those in Washington D.C. looking to expand background checks. 

"What's the point of more background checks from people who have no idea how to do it when we're enforcing the laws we have now?" asked McBride.

McBride pointed to recent reporting that shows that most of those who fail a gun background check after falsifying their information are never prosecuted. In January The New York Times reported that in 2010 of 80,000 individuals denied purchase of a gun for falsification only 44 were prosecuted. 

Most of the attention in the question and answer period of the discussion focused on McBride.

McBride also called the gun control measures pushed for by President Obama, which, if approved by the Senate, would have expanded background checks, threats from a “tyrannical government.”   

McBride also spoke plainly about how he believed background checks could not have prevented the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School…

"And you could arm teachers by the way, you could train them well enough and keep guns safe from tampering in a way that instead of 2o or 30 dead children, you'd have a dead perpetrator and maybe 1 or 2 victims," said McBride.

Steve Ballok, a resident of Monroe, Connecticut, a neighboring community of Newtown, voiced his support for gun control.

"I'm personally in favor of the Second Amendment," said Ballok, "but I do I believe in gun control. I believe that we should be able to control firepower, and we do, and we continue to reexamine that as technology changes. And I believe that we should be able to control accessibility in a responsible way."

Ballok did say that while he disagreed with the opinions presented by McBride, he did appreciate the diverse opinions that were offered.

"I think it's valuable to talk about and that's how you move this forward," said Ballok.

Reflecting on the recent defeat in Washington, Ballok added the he believed gun control would begin in “small steps.” 

Karen Hunkler, a Pittsfield resident, said that she went into the gun violence discussion with a neutral opinion, but came out with a new viewpoint.

"I want the laws to be right for people as we go forward," said Hunkler, "I'm leaning towards pro-gun because I don't trust our elected officials to do it right."

Rachel Branch, a North Adams resident, attended the forum and shared her own experiences with gun violence. She said that she supports the registration of information of gun owners the same as those seeking to open a bank account, receive a marriage license, or register a vehicle. But she also echoed sentiments offered in the discussion about the need to increase funding to support the mentally ill.

"We need to have the support and the financial support dealing with people with mental illnesses," said Branch.

Participants also discussed the culture of violence in the media and how it may play into gun violence.

Stockbridge Police Chief Richard Wilcox said that he would advocate for more people to become involved in wide-ranging discussions on an issue than can be so divisive.

"I think this kind of a format is important for all of us," said Wilcox. "If you tend to spend your time with like-thinking people you tend not to think outside the box as much."