(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) What started with polite applause ended with jeers and shouts, as Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) hosted a panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee High School last night.
Hundreds turned out at the school’s auditorium for the discussion, with gun supporters — wearing “Guns Save Lives” stickers — outnumbering gun control advocates about 3:2, based on the volume of completing applause points.
Among the panelists on stage with Moran were:
David Chapman, a retired ATF Special Agent
Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Earl Cook, Alexandria Police Chief
Jonathan Lowy, of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
Karen Marangi, of Mayors Against Illegal Guns
The event was titled “Preventing Another Newtown: A Conversation on Gun Violence in America,” and the Newtown, Aurora and Tuscon mass shootings were repeatedly referenced.
While expressing general support for the Second Amendment right to own firearms, Moran and the panelists made the case for additional gun control measures, including universal background checks, an renewed assault weapons ban, magazine capacity limits and mandated reporting of stolen guns. Possible changes to the treatment of those with mental illness were also discussed.
“We hope those of you in the room will really help us to move this, so we can make our communities safer,” Marangi said of some of the gun control legislation that has been proposed in Congress.
Many in the audience, however, were there to voice another opinion. After a generally polite reception for a opening statements by the panelists, the question and answer session brought a different tone.
A majority of speakers spoke strongly in support of gun rights and against additional gun laws, and some expressed fear that the government’s ultimate goal in gun legislation is to gradually ban gun ownership. Moran and the panel’s response to the audience statements and questions often drew boos and shouts.
Gun supporters said that firearms make communities safer, not more dangerous, by allowing law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves and those around them.
“Congressman, I know you’re pro-choice, but why aren’t you pro-choice when it comes to self-defense for women,” said one speaker to loud applause. “Why don’t you guys listen to the young rape victims in Colorado when they said that if they had a gun it would have prevented their attacker.”
Other gun supporters called for the elimination of “gun-free zones,” particularly around schools.
“As you can see, there are a lot of people here who are legitimate, law-abiding gun owners,” said a man who asked fellow gun owners to stand, before voicing support for allowing teachers to carry guns. “We would be more than happy to defend innocent lives should a psycho… come into an area to commit an act of violence.”
“I would be opposed to teachers carrying guns in the classroom, and I would not want my children in a classroom where their teacher was carrying a gun,” Moran said in response, to applause from gun control advocates in the audience.
“I know this community well enough to know that the people standing up in this auditorium are not representative of the majority of the residents, ” he continued, to more applause as well as some jeers.
Speaking to reporters after the forum, Moran said he expected a negative response.
“I fully expected this and it’s par for the course for people who feel this strongly,” he said. “For many gun owners, this is defining of who they are. They feel it’s a matter of self esteem, that it’s important for them to operate weapons.
“I think that there are groups such as the National Rifle Association and others who have a vested interest in convincing gun owners that the ultimate objective is to take all of their guns from them,” Moran said. “And that has spurred a near-paranoia, and I think we witnessed some of that tonight.”
Moran said his views on gun matters weren’t swayed by the response from the audience.
“I heard a lot of emotion, I didn’t hear anything particularly convincing,” the Congressman said.
Moran has proposed two pieces of gun control legislation: the NRA Members’ Gun Safety Act, a package of provisions that Morans says is supported by over two-thirds of NRA members, and the Tiahrt Restrictions Repeal Act, which would remove restrictions on certain gun-related law enforcement actions.