MU gun violence panel discusses recent violence in Columbia, next steps

The panel, moderated by MU Professor Ashley Woodson, included community members impacted by gun violence.

MU’s College of Education hosted a panel discussing gun violence in Columbia on Nov. 12 in Swallow Hall.

Ashley Woodson, assistant professor of social studies education at MU, moderated the discussion. Other panel members included community members Rev. James Gray, Bill Thompson and Assistant Teaching Professor Brittany Beasley. Shaunda Hamilton, the mother of Nadria Wright who was shot and killed in September in Columbia was part of the panel as well.

“It is unacceptable that children are dying and incomprehensible that children are dying so close to a place where our tax dollars support research that could and should inform meaningful intervention into our living conditions,” Woodson said.

September 2019 was a particularly violent month for Columbia, as five people died due to gun violence that month — more than the entire previous year.

Compared to other states, Missouri is high in gun-related deaths. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1,307 Missourians died from gunshot wounds in 2017, making Missouri the sixth highest state for gun-related deaths in the nation.

At the discussion, Woodson encouraged the panelists to look at the issue in a holistic light.

“Gun violence is rarely a story of an individual, a weapon and a bullet,” she said. “These are stories of alienation and hopelessness, stories of poverty and powerlessness and stories of failure within our legal, educational and mental health care systems.”

Rev. James Gray pointed out an audience member who was a teacher at Battle High School, describing through tears how she had lost several students to gun violence over the past few years.

“I pray for them because I’m saying ‘How much more can they take?’” Gray asked. “‘Cause they’re only human.”

Hamilton’s daughter, who graduated high school in May and attended Columbia College, was shot in September after getting dinner with a friend at a local McDonald’s. Hamilton added that she brought her family from St. Louis to Columbia in 2008 thinking it would be a safer place to raise her kids.

“Never in a million years did I think it would be my daughter that would be murdered,” she said, choking back tears.

Hamilton and Gray have started an organization called Boone County Community Against Violence to reduce gun violence in the Columbia community, adding they will host a roundtable in December.

Gray ended the panel with a call to action for both the young people in attendance and the Columbia community.

“We need people that want to make a difference and not just sit back and talk about it,” Gray said. “I don’t care what color you are, how much money you got, where you’re from or this or that. Let’s get out there and let’s work together.”

Edited by Ben Scott | bscott@themaneater.com

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