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CHaD to Hold Panel on Gun Policies

Lebanon — A principal, a police chief, a state representative, a reverend, a psychologist and three others will come together to discuss gun control, mental health and anything else that’s on their minds in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth is holding a public panel discussion tomorrow to talk about what the community can do to keep children safe and prevent a tragedy like the one that happened in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman in December killed 20 students at an elementary school, from happening in the Upper Valley. The event is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in auditoriums E and F at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

It’s likely that gun control advocates and their opponents will be in attendance and many people may disagree on numerous topics. But moderator Dr. Steven Chapman hopes that attendees will come with an open mind.

“We can go and be polarized like we’ve always been. Or maybe we can do things differently. Maybe we can listen to the other side,” said Chapman, director of the Boyle Community Pediatrics Program.

Panelists include Lebanon High School Principal Nan Parsons, Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone, state Rep. Laurie Harding, D-Lebanon, Suellen Griffin, president of West Central Behavioral Health and the Rev. Carla Bailey, senior pastor at the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College, among others.

Each panelist will be given five to 10 minutes to tell the audience what they believe could build a safer community where mass shootings are less likely to happen in the future.

“Honestly, we could have had 100 people on this panel,” Chapman said.

Bailey, the pastor, said having panelists from a range of backgrounds will likely broaden the conversation. Bailey organized a similar community forum in Hanover in early January where 70 people attended, but the focus was to bring New Hampshire residents and legislators together to talk about gun policy.

Several of the eight panelists have a background in mental health or work in the department of psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine, which means that much of the conversation could lean toward improving the mental health system. Bailey said she thinks mental health is an important part of the conversation, but that gun control must also be a part of the solution.

“To keep children safe requires a broad sweep of responsibility,” Bailey said. “It’s good that it’s broadening, but my only concern is that we don’t diminish the part that brings about better gun legislation.”

Even those that can’t agree on gun control seem to agree that changes need to be made in the mental health system and that a dialogue needs to continue. Just recently, a bill was withdrawn from the Vermont senate that would have banned assault weapons sales, and even the senators who didn’t support the bill said they thought the answer to preventing tragedies like Sandy Hook starts with improving the mental health system.

Grafton County Sheriff Doug Dutile recently released a statement to the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition that said, “I will uphold the constitution, I am and all my deputies as long as I am sheriff will not take any firearms away from the public. I will uphold and defend the constitution against Obama’s unlawful gun control.”

To put the statement in context, Dutile was asked by the coalition what he would do if President Obama ordered law enforcement to remove all firearms from citizens. Dutile added that he thinks the chances of Obama pushing through that type of agenda is very unlikely.

Dutile was not invited to be a part of tomorrow’s panel discussion, but said conversations about mental health need to continue. The sheriffs in the state are responsible for transporting mental health patients to hospitals. Sheriffs used to transport mental health patients to hospitals across the state, Dutile said, but because of budget cuts, the only hospital he transports patients to now is the state hospital in Concord.

Dutile said he would also support tougher background checks for those who want to purchase a gun.

“I think we need some sort of gun control, but what I think has happened after Sandy Hook has been a knee-jerk reaction,” Dutile said. “We need to be taking care of our mental health issues, not taking firearms from everybody.”

Tomorrow’s panel discussion is open to the public.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.