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Talk at League of Women Voters forum in Oakland centers on guns

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Arlene Levy (left in blue) of Highland Park, Lisa Schwartz (center) of Fox Chapel and Ronnie Cook Zuhlke (right) of Squirrel Hill discuss ideas around their table during a dialogue about 'Gun Safety in a Free Society' at Rodef Shalom in Oakland on Sunday. The League of Women Voters organized the discussion, which included a panel of experts and a deliberation with people drawn from across Allegheny County.

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By Megan Harris
Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Nearly 80 people weighed the merits of enhanced education courses, extended hours for schools and community centers, an increased police presence and stronger legislation as part of a gun safety forum in Oakland on Sunday.

Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, “Gun Safety in a Free Society” brought together community members, business owners and students on both sides of the gun lobby, said Robert Cavalier, co-director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Cavalier likened the event, held at Rodef Shalom, to a town hall meeting, encouraging discourse in small groups guided by trained moderators. Each group discussed the topics and posed questions to a panel of experts, ultimately sharing their takeaway in a post-forum survey.

“Gun safety is an issue that will naturally get some people riled up,” Cavalier said, “and that's fine. We wanted all our participants to help inform and direct the opinions of their group, so long as no one is dominating.”

Moderators asked about safe communities and what people can do to promote that sense of area-wide well-being.

“I don't feel comfortable outside after midnight,” said CMU freshman Jason Baik. “We get alerts from campus police about robberies a lot more than I feel like we should.”

Baik, a Canadian citizen, said he came to the event to learn more about guns in American culture.

“Guns are not as problematic there as they are in the U.S.,” he said. “It's important to understand another perspective.”

Across the room, Ron Boocks, 67, of Peters shared with his group accounts of stolen firearms and attempted crimes. As a retired government employee, he said he's dealt with as many ignorant police officers as he has gun owners and opponents.

“We need to understand our own laws better and enforce what we've already got on the books,” Boocks said.

Nancy Naragon, vice president of the League of Women Voters' board of directors, said the organization tried to recruit diverse participants from a variety of ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“It's so hard to talk about contentious issues,” she said, “but if you can get past the biases and slogans, you often find there's a lot of common ground.”

Cavalier said results from the event's survey will be analyzed and compared to previous responses for a study to be released by CMU in March.

“We're not pretending this will yield robust, statistical data, but we are curious whether this forum model can change the opinion, even slightly, of an informed audience,” he said.

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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