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Q&A: ISU scholar Julie Webber and America's enduring gun problem

A woman cries as she leaves the Uvalde Civic Center, Tuesday May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.
William Luther
/
AP
A woman cries as she leaves the Uvalde Civic Center on Tuesday May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.

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As news spread out of Uvalde, Texas, of yet another school massacre, the country began an all-too familiar conversation: what to do about guns.

Julie Webber is an Illinois State University professor who has spent over two decades studying school shootings. She wrote a 2018 book on the topic titled "Beyond Columbine: School violence and the Virtual." Webber said when we reduce the conversation to issues of gun control vs. gun rights, we’re missing a critical point.

“We're way past that debate,” Webber said. “We're no longer in this kind of 1990s era where we can say that, you know, we just need to limit (guns) to good people. They're everywhere. We don't even know how to regulate them at this point.”

Truly addressing the problem will take far more than regulation, Webber maintains. And it has to start with asking the right questions.

“Like, why do people need to have 50 guns?” Webber says. “Why do people feel like they need to have them? These are big questions. And we don’t ask these questions when we talk about the gun control debate.” Instead, the debate is limited at the question of constitutionality, Webber said.

Addressing a common refrain that tends to echo in the wake of school shootings, Webber said introducing more armed security officers – or even arming teachers – isn’t the answer. The idea of “hardening targets,” she said, is the language of war.

“That’s militant language that doesn't belong in a civil society. If you want your society to be at war with itself, then invite the language of war in," Webber said.

Simply growing up in the age of school shootings is an “enormously stressful environment” for children, Webber said. But she maintains hope that those very children will be able to change the future – once the adults who are presently in command get out of the way.

“The generation right now that's in charge has just gotten out of control in terms of ego space and narcissism. And I think that young people realize that this is not sustainable,” Webber said. “And I feel bad that they're going to have to fix it. But I think they'll be able to because they have seen this.”

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