Eastern Iowa committee plans discussion, film screening on sensible gun use

Group hopes to engage attendees in 'difficult conversation'

Published: December 20 2013 | 3:40 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:08 am in
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Roughly one year after a school shooting claimed the lives of 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, a diverse group of people in Eastern Iowa is planning to host a panel discussion and film screening to re-start a conversation on sensible gun use in the area.

Ripples to Waves, an ecumenical group with about six active members, is showing the documentary "Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence" at the Coralville Performing Arts Center, 1301 5th Street, on Jan. 9 at 7 p.m.

The film was produced in 2010 by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in response to mass shootings across the U.S. and tells the story of how one shooting can impact multiple people throughout a community.

June Braverman, co-chair of the Ripples to Waves committee, said the local group — which partners with the First Presbyterian Church of Iowa City, the Consultation of Religious Communities, Johnson County Church Women United, Iowa City Hospice, Community Mental Health Program and the Domestic Violence Intervention Program — last year, shortly after the Newtown Shooting.

Mary Ann Pedde, also a co-chair, said their goal is to start a civil discussion about gun use and possible solutions to gun violence in the area.

"Our goal is to bring the people from both sides to give them new, factual information and to say hey, we understand you like to hung and fish and none of us want to deny you of your civil liberties and your rights, but at the same time, what could you move to the middle on? What would you be comfortable with in trying to find a way to curb violence that's going on in our community?" Pedde said.

Members of the Ripples to Waves group also hope to educate the community on gun reform, support mental health agencies that have had their funding cut, start a letter-writing campaign encouraging people to contact their legislators about gun laws and talk through various types of gun legislation or other safety steps that should be taken in the area, Braverman said.

Responding to gun violence through the lens of a natural disaster

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the organization that made the documentary, responds to natural disaster and human-caused disaster events. Though it started out responding to natural disasters, Laurie Kraus, coordinator for the organization, said it began responding to human-caused disasters after the Columbine Shooting in 1999, and really took root after 9/11, looking at human-caused violence through a natural disaster lens.

When a natural disaster or public violence event occurs, Kraus said the organization goes in immediately to begin providing emotional and spiritual support to community leaders - such as religious leaders, psychologists, therapists, and peer counselors - who are trying to help members of their community heal from tragedy.

"With public violence events it's not about making sure you have a tarp over your roof, it's about putting a tarp over your spirit and giving people who are in the midst of horror and shock and rage and a sense of how could this happen here," Kraus said.  "It's giving them sort of sheltered space to process that grief and horror and to sort of prop them up and support them while they're figuring out how to respond in their own community and how to reach out to the most afflicted and affected."

About ten volunteers on the 110-person Presbyterian Disaster Assistance response team respond to gun violence incidents, Kraus said. The organization typically comes in right way to help and returns at the six and 12-month marks, providing emotional and spiritual care, but also explaining to leaders how much human disaster costs, its trajectory, and that it takes years for a community to heal and recover from such events.

The organization also hosts a workshop on compassion fatigue, that teaches local leaders about practicing good self care and how to understand their weariness.

"We don't go in like experts and heroes and take over helping people in the hospital or responding to the traumatized," Kraus said. "Although we are capable of doing that, our job is to give our colleagues and community leadership the tools so they can be resilient in doing that."

As gun violence and human-caused disasters continued to persist, Kraus said David Barnhart - the group's video production producer and director - decided to make a documentary about gun violence and how a mass shooting event can affect multiple people in a community over time.

Now, Kraus said the group is using the documentary to help communities, like those in Eastern Iowa, gather to think about gun violence and it's broader effect and what can be done about it. Since Newtown, Kraus said the film has been shown in communities across the country to spark conversations.

Community Discussion

A 40-minute panel discussion featuring Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom, Domestic Violence Intervention Program Executive Director Kristie Fortmann-Doser, a representative from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, Community Mental Health Executive Director Stephen Trefz and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Orthopedic Surgeon Michael Willey will be held after the film. Barnhart will also be at the screening.

"Obviously it's a very difficult conversation because people are very passionate about it, and there are people that don't want any guns in this country, and there are people who don't want any regulation on guns," said Martha Schut, a third co-chair for the group. "So we see ourselves as a way to come to a third choice where people can work together to use guns and use them safely and we can get more support in the mental health arena, and also search for some common ground."

The committee has also invited the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and mayors of the communities in the county to attend, Braverman said.

Pedde said the group intends to hold more panel discussions about gun violence and possible solutions in months following the screening to continue the conversation.

"I think for the climate to change we have to have that," she said. "I don't think a one night movie, no matter how good it is, is going to make people move to the middle."

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