Shasha Seminar Explores the Role of Guns in America

The 16th Annual Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, held Oct. 27–28 on campus, convened experts, including Wesleyan alumni, from across the country to examine current debates about the role of guns in American history, society, law and politics. The Shasha Seminar is an educational forum for Wesleyan alumni, parents and friends that provides an opportunity to explore issues of global concern in a small seminar environment. Endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues.

Seminar organizer Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history and associate professor of science in society at Wesleyan, noted in a previous article that “Firearms possession is possibly one of the most divisive topics in the country.” Her goal was for the event to “create a forum for conversations about current gun ownership and laws with room for a variety of perspectives on this topic. We want for this university seminar to be a forum for discussions and a meeting point for current research about firearms possession and use from a number of different fields,” she said.

The 16th Annual Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, held Oct. 27-28 on campus, convened experts, including Wesleyan alumni, from different fields across the country to examine current debates about the role of guns in American history, society, law and politics. The Shasha Seminar is an educational forum for Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends that provides an opportunity to explore issues of global concern in a small seminar environment. Endowed by James Shasha '50, P'82, the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues.

Beginning in Memorial Chapel on Friday afternoon with a keynote speech by Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor of English and American Studies, Emeritus (see photo below), the weekend proved to be a venue for education, questions and much discussion on concerns surrounding guns in American society.

Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of American Studies, Emeritus, delivered the keynote address titled “Open Season: The Gun Rights Movement and American Political Culture.” Slotkin discussed the current struggle over firearms legislation and how it has been shaped by a political movement, which links a radical understanding of “gun rights” to the agendas of American conservatism.

Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of English and American Studies, Emeritus, delivered the keynote address titled “Open Season: The Gun Rights Movement and American Political Culture.” Slotkin discussed the current struggle over firearms legislation and how it has been shaped by a political movement, which links a radical understanding of “gun rights” to the agendas of American conservatism.

Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history, associate professor of science in society at Wesleyan introduced Slotkin to the audience. Tucker coordinated the 2017 Shasha Seminar. 

Event organizer Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history and associate professor of science in society at Wesleyan, introduced Slotkin to the audience. According to Tucker, guns are a topic of concern not just for those advocating for gun control, but also for gun rights advocates, who see the issue as a question of personal liberty. The debate, she notes, is now moving onto college campuses, with the recent passage of legislation allowing guns on campus in 10 states. Additionally, 16 more states are considering such legislation.

Slotkin encouraged questions and comments following his keynote.

Slotkin encouraged questions and comments following his keynote.

Matthew Lesser ’10, Connecticut state representative, and Donald Zilkha ’73, Wesleyan trustee emeritus, participated in an alumni roundtable. Sam Levy ’04, a legal counsel at Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that focuses on policy and state legislative work in the Northeast region, also sat on the panel.

Bill Johnston, professor of history, professor of science in society, professor of East Asian studies, moderated the alumni panel.

Shasha Seminar panels focused on firearms in early U.S. history; historical and contemporary trends in gun violence; current gun policies; activism and advocacy around the gun debate; evidence-based policy making; and looking ahead. Pictured, Bill Johnston, professor of history, professor of science in society, and professor of East Asian studies, moderates a panel.

Patrick Charles, senior historian for U.S. Special Operations Command located at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and the author of a forthcoming book, Armed in America: A History of Gun Rights from Colonial Militias to Concealed Carry, examined the history of arms regulations laws.

In a Saturday panel on current gun policies, speakers included Greg Dubinsky ’07 (left), an associate at Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP, and Robert Wilcox ’01, who directs priority federal campaigns for Everytown for Gun Safety. Other speakers on this panel included Patrick Charles, senior historian for U.S. Special Operations Command located at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and author of a forthcoming book, Armed in America: A History of Gun Rights from Colonial Militias to Concealed Carry; and moderator Darryl Miller, the Melvin G. Shimm Professor of Law at Duke Law School, where he writes and teaches in the areas of civil rights, constitutional law and legal history.

The Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns was sponsored by the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the Office of Academic Affairs, the Quantitative Analysis Center and the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Art Gallery.

Watch a recording of the Shasha Seminar’s keynote address online.