Kansas Leadership Center sparks conversation on gun safety

Matthew L. Self

The debate over proper gun legislation has been raging for many years now. Recently those debates have taken on a greater urgency as the rise of mass shootings has pushed gun safety to the forefront of American minds. But as debates take place over gun rights in our state capitals, smaller discussions can be found at the local level, including our own campus.

At 6 p.m. Thursday in the Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center a group of concerned citizens from the local area came together to discuss the topic of gun safety at an event labeled: Perspectives on Gun Use and Public Safety, A Community Issue & A Community Conversation. The group also included members of the Topeka Police Department and a great deal of Washburn students. Members of the local state government, such as Bill Riphahn, Shawnee County commissioner and Michael Padilla, city council member, could also be seen at the event.

All bore witness to or took part in the discussions on gun use and how it affected public safety. Participants in the discussion were introduced to the topic at hand by members of the Kansas Leadership Center and the Greater Topeka Partnership among others.

The total number of organizations that came together to make this event happen included Leadership Greater Topeka, Topeka Justice Unity and Ministry Project, Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, Washburn University Leadership Institute, Topeka Youth Commission, Kansas Leadership Center and the Valeo Behavioral Health and Family Service and Guidance Center.

After the initial announcements were made, the 60 or so participants were introduced to the ‘actors’ for the evening. Each of the actors portrayed someone who has been involved with guns in the past and who now either supports gun restrictions or rejects it. Thus, each actor presented a different perspective on gun safety.

“There will be several different personas tonight,” said Errin Mahan, an emergency planner at the Shawnee County Department of Emergency Management. “There will be someone playing a surgeon, a therapist, and an officer who had an encounter with an active shooter among others. I will be portraying a sheriff in a rural county that will be introducing a school’s Defend Initiative.”

After the initial announcements took place, the participants were split up into several different groups. Each was presented with a slip of paper with instructions to guide the conversation and two folded envelopes that held two different situations involving gun violence.

“I work with Leadership Greater Topeka and the conversation came up about how do we host these critical conversations, especially concerning gun violence in the community,” said Eric Grospitch, VP of Student Life on campus. “The campus has been rocked by this violence in the last six months. Having conversations about how to positively impact our community and create change has been at the forefront of our minds this year.”

During the conversations, everyone could present their views on possible solutions to the situations they were given. There were no wrong answers and all were given the opportunity to speak their minds. As a precaution, therapists were on hand to help anyone who was frightened or upset about the topics under discussion.

“I think this was a great opportunity to listen to other people and how they feel about the issue of gun violence and the availability of guns and, more than that, a broader issue of how we communicate with each other,” said Michael Padilla. “I think the conversation we had tonight was about our basic values and what we believe in.”

Edited by Adam White, Jessica Galvin, Brianna Smith