Four local leaders from different backgrounds came together last week to talk about gun violence in Manchester.
Representatives with experience in religion, law enforcement, education and the government were panelists at the first in a series of forums presented by St. Bridget Church at
The message that night, according to moderator Andrea Rowe of St. Bridget Church, was to listen, not argue or try to find weaknesses in discussion.
"This forum was conceived with the intention of finding common ground," Rowe said. "We're trying to keep the public discourse going. We ask that everyone listen with the view of wanting to understand."
The forum on March 20, was not only a response to the mass
Earlier in March, the Manchester Community College campus was put on lockdown after a report of a man carrying a gun in his waistband.
State Rep. Jason Rojas, a Democrat who represents
"Both sides of the debate have the same end goal in mind: ending unnecessary violence," Rojas said. "Let us not turn on each other when we all have the same end goal."
Rojas said that while he doesn't think that gun violence can be ended completely, the current gun control proposals at the state and federal level could help mitigate it.
Interim Superintendent Richard Kisiel said that while he'll leave decisions in the gun control debate to policymakers, it will take more than changes in the legislation to find a solution to gun violence.
As an educator, Kisiel's focus is on creating a safe climate in Manchester schools.
"The key is to prevent violence in all its forms, whether it's bullying or aggressive behavior," Kisiel said. "All of us have an obligation to make sure our schools and our community are safe and secure."
Kisiel put a spotlight on creating partnerships among schools, the police and other organizations to foster a better learning environment. He also brought up intervention strategies that put more focus on
"You need to tell them that it's all right for them to seek mental health assistance for themselves and others," Kisiel said. "In order to make this happen we need to provide in our community broader access to mental health and behavioral health services."
Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy brought his understanding of guns and gun ownership to the table.
According to him, mass killings are more frequent in part because of the kinds of weapons available to purchase.
"One thing that's changed is the lethality of the weaponry currently available to the general public," Montminy said. "But I sense that it's something more than just the availability of weaponry."
Montminy spoke about how society treats mental health patients and how that's changed with the closing of institutions. He also referenced violent video games that many children play every day.
"We have no ability as public safety to determine who is a potential mental health threat and who is not," Montminy said. "So when somebody goes and seeks out a weapon permit, local law enforcement has no opportunity to determine if someone is potentially dangerous."
Sister Linda Pepe of the Collaborative Center for Justice in Hartford agreed with Montminy about the violent media that youth consume daily.
"Do not kid yourself that these programs have no effect on their young minds," Pepe said. "They have made our youth bullies."
Montminy, remembering the shooting at Hartford Distributors in 2010 and deadly shootings on