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Following Another School Shooting, the Country Returns to Discussing Gun Violence

Four Duke faculty experts assess the situation for change

AR-15 model similar to the one used in the Texas shooting
AR-15 model similar to the one used in the Texas shooting

In successive weeks, the country has faced mass shootings at a grocery store, a church and – Tuesday – an elementary school. In upcoming weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion that could significantly limit states’ ability to regulate guns.

With policy options shrinking, four Duke faculty experts spoke Wednesday about what is possible, ranging from issues of assisting affected children with trauma to addressing gun violence as a public health matter.


Robin Gurwitch
Clinical psychologist and a senior adviser to the Terrorism and Disaster Program of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)

“The infuriating and extremely emotionally charged frequency of mass shootings in our country are a contributing factor in the mental health distress in our children and teens,” says Gurwitch, who has been involved in events from terrorism (e.g., Oklahoma City, 9/11) to disasters (e.g., Katrina, Joplin and Oklahoma tornadoes), to mass violence (Sandy Hook, Las Vegas). “How we talk with our children can help them cope, but offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ is little balm for a problem that demands action.”


Darrell A.H. Miller
Melvin G. Shimm Professor of Law and Center for Firearms Law co-director, quoted in the L.A. Times

“If your reaction to these kind of atrocities is, ‘Well, where is the political will to move the needle on regulation?’ The truth is that the space for that kind of regulatory move is becoming narrower and narrower, both as a matter of constitutional law but also as a matter of state law.”

“Even absent action by the Supreme Court of the United States, the demonstrated reaction of red states in particular to atrocities like what just occurred in Texas and what just occurred in Buffalo ... is not to actually even consider any sort of gun regulations, but ever more expansive gun rights.”


Joseph Blocher
Lanty L. Smith ’67 Professor of Law, quoted in Foreign Policy

“What you’re seeing really is a growing divergence between states like California and New York, which have tightened their gun laws, and places like Texas, for example, which have continued to loosen them.”

“Some portion of gun rights advocates are gun rights absolutists and don’t believe that the right can be regulated at all, and that’s just not how we treat constitutional rights. All constitutional rights—whether it’s freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, free exercise of religion -- they’re all subject to regulation.” 


Joseph Blocher in Reader’s Digest

“Political dynamics have done a great disservice to attempts to come up with effective legislation to curb gun violence in America.” 

“If you ask people whether it’s more important to prioritize gun rights or gun regulation, the gap between parties would appear to be enormous, and higher than for just about any political issue ... Many people who don’t identify as gun control advocates nonetheless favor expanded background checks in advance of gun purchasing.”

“Expanded background checks are a sensible place to start. That’s a proposal that’s overwhelmingly popular, plainly constitutional and eminently sensible. It’s a way to keep guns from getting into the wrong hands in the first place.” 


Kristin Goss
Kevin D. Gorter Professor of Public Policy and Political Science
“America’s gun violence problem is actually a lot of different problems, with comparatively easy availability of firearms as a common element. For rampage shootings, we need more red flag laws coupled with a massive information campaign to let people and authorities know they are a tool that can be used. The federal government should enact legislation incentivizing laggard states to enact these laws.”