To Mallory Harris, a senior math major at the University of Georgia and an organizer of the Athens March for Our Lives Rally, gun owners aren’t enemies — they’re allies.
Harris, who prefers the term gun safety to gun control, first became active in the gun debate back in 2016, when the Georgia General Assembly tried to pass a campus carry bill. Harris said people might be surprised by how much common ground there is over guns.
“In the media [gun control] gets portrayed as this really divisive issue, but then what I’ll do is set up a table outside the [Miller Learning Center] and talk to anyone who walks by … the people who I most enjoy speaking with are the gun owners,” Harris said. “A lot of times, they’ll walk away and they’re like, ‘A lot of this I agree with.’”
It’s not only Harris who finds common ground on this seemingly contentious issue. The latest polls suggest the majority of Americans agree on changes to gun control regulations.
Polls released in March by Gallup said 67 percent of Americans would like to see stricter gun control laws while only 4 percent said they would like more lenient laws on guns. This is the highest percentage of Americans in agreement over the gun control issue since 1993.
As for specific policy solutions, 95 percent of Americans polled said they support better training for officers who respond to active shootings, 92 percent support background checks for all gun sales and 68 percent would like to increase the age to buy any gun from 18 to 21, according to Gallup.
In U.S. Capitol
Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, like Harris, said he believes the media has a lot to do with the divisiveness over the gun control debate.
“I don’t think the media reflects America at all,” Isakson said. “[Americans] should take their cues from facts and knowing what they’re talking about and not be influenced by a media that’s too often too partisan.”
Isakson, despite being a Republican with an A rating from the NRA, took a position against the campus carry bill that was passed in Georgia last year.
After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, Isakson called for increased enforcement of current and better mental health services. Despite Isakson and other politicians’ support, including President Donald Trump, no legislation on mental health services has passed in Congress since the shooting in Parkland.
Isakson, who considers himself someone willing to reach across the aisle to find solutions, said politicians on both sides of the political spectrum have hardened their positions on gun control and become entrenched in their own beliefs, despite Gallup polls showing general support for stricter gun control policies.
“It’s something we need to overcome,” Isakson said. “As long as you’re looking for [common ground] and listening to the other side and speaking out so they can listen to you, then out of it a consensus will emerge and a solution will emerge as well.”
Growing partisanship is happening all over the country but is particularly acute here in Georgia. According to The Lugar Center, a nonprofit which scores states on its bipartisanship index, Georgia is ranked 42 out of 50 for reaching across the political aisle.
This partisanship is not due to the legislators themselves but because of factors such as gerrymandering, Georgia’s 7th Congressional District Rep. Rob Woodall said.
“The way our districts have been carved up through gerrymandering, our constituents are at polar opposite ends [of the political spectrum],” said Woodall, a Republican representative whose district encompasses much of metro Atlanta. “It’s not that our politicians are reflecting a political divide. It’s the districts and the voters.”
In the schools
One solution to the shootings in schools recently proposed by President Trump, the arming of teachers, had much less of a consensus than other proposed solutions.
Only 42 percent of Americans are in favor of allowing specifically trained teachers to carry firearms in schools, according to Gallup. When teachers were polled, 73 percent opposed carrying guns in school and 58 percent said doing so would make schools less safe.
Xernona Thomas, the chief of staff of the Clarke County School District, said Superintendent Demond Means does not support teachers carrying weapons in schools.
“Our position is always that we want our schools as safe as they can be for our students,” Thomas said. “We have not taken a political stance about what people’s individuals rights should be, but we do believe that our schools should be weapons free.”
School systems must come together on the local level to work to ensure their communities and their students are safe, Thomas said. Clarke County School District is in the process of compiling school safety audit and hiring a new police chief.
Like Thomas, Woodall said the best way to address the issues surrounding violence in schools is at the community level.
“What something like a [Parent Teacher Association] can do is be with that child, be with that family, be in that classroom, in ways I can’t,” Woodall said. “People who have skin in the game — as parents, teachers and administrators do locally — there’s no limit to what those folks can do.”
Because Republicans have control of all three branches of federal and state government, Harris said anyone with solutions should appeal to this party specifically.
“If it’s common sense, then it’s not just Democrats who agree with it. There are plenty of conservatives who can agree with common-sense, life-saving measures,” Harris said. “This is a public health crisis … We need to find broadly supported measures that can save lives.”