Under the gun

Dayton International Peace Museum explores America’s gun culture

By Zach Rogers

Photo: Dayton International Peace Museum volunteer Bill Meers adds a news clip to the “blank panel” on April 8. The board, which contains news clips of gun-related violence, was empty on April 1; photo: Sarah Sidlow

The issue of guns in the United States is no doubt a hot button topic for many, and seems to weigh more heavily on the country’s conscious now than ever before. There’s an estimated 300 million guns circulating in the country today, and with over 60,000 firearm-related deaths in the past two years alone, the problem now points to near-epidemic proportions.

Some feel the world would be a better place without guns of any sort. For others, guns represent protection, freedom and a right to self-defense protected by the Constitution. There’s a gun culture here in America.

That’s what the Dayton International Peace Museum looks to shed light on with their latest exhibit, America’s Gun Culture. 

“My goal was to put together a factual, non-biased representation of what America’s gun culture is really like,” Jim Hemmerly, principal researcher and museum volunteer said. “We’re trying to highlight and educate people on this country’s increasingly large gun problem and the issues that surround it.”

Hemmerly hopes to answer a lot of questions with this exhibit, or at least get some kind of dialogue going about it. What is the gun culture? What are the statistics? What kind of economic impact do guns have? Where does the majority of gun violence take place? What does Dayton look like compared to other cities?

“These are the questions we’re hoping to answer,” Hemmerly said. “I want to get the facts out there so people can have a better understanding of the issue and start talking about it more rationally with each other, as opposed to simply taking sides and shutting our ears.”

The exhibit, which opened on April 5, offers a wide variety of information, and focuses on reaching both those who are already familiar and those who are new to the issue. Among other things, the main exhibit includes information on the history of guns in America, an overview of national gun-related statistics, the history of the National Rifle Association and other gun-focused organizations and the legal issues seen on both the state and federal level. Other sections include information on mass shootings, guns and the issue of mental health, guns in the media and other resources where people can dig deeper into the subject.

“The whole point is to really try our best to inform the public on how guns impact the country,” Hemmerly said. “I want to have a variety of viewpoints so people can walk away having made up their own minds without feeling bogged down by one side or the other.”

There will also be a host of different events and programs coinciding with the exhibit at the museum throughout its three-month run. Those will consist of things like gun safety, Second Amendment debates, gun violence as a public health issue and other areas of interest. One feature of the exhibit that’s sure to stand out is the “blank panel,” which will be continuously updated with articles relating to any homicides, shootings and other gun violence in the city of Dayton in order to represent the sheer magnitude of the situation. The idea came from Hemmerly’s own research for the exhibit. He began tracking incidents out of the local newspaper in addition to doing other research, but the rapid results ended up surprising him so much he wanted to make it a stand-alone feature of the exhibit.

“I’ll bet we fill up the entire board within weeks,” Hemmerly said. “That’s my feeling on it because it’s exactly what happened to me. Rarely does a day go by without some kind of article related to guns, I mean it’s that pervasive, and I don’t know how many people actually pay attention to things like that. I thought the blank panel would be a good way to bring it all home, and I think it’ll really put it into perspective.”

The idea for an exhibit focused so heavily on the gun crisis in America has been in the works for some time, and once Hemmerly got involved, research took nearly a year to complete. Now that it’s up and running, Hemmerly hopes people will walk away with more knowledge than when they came in.

“Guns are all over, and different people from all walks of life have an interest in them for whatever reason,” Hemmerly said. “It’s an everyday focus for a lot of people, and now I think what we really need is some kind of conversation about achieving a reasonable balance in our society. I don’t think there’s any one answer on any particular issue, because it’s just not that simple, but I think one way or another we’re all after the same thing. It’s about finding a sense of stability in the world we live in. It’s truly a fascinating subject, and I think it’s an important one to grapple with in our country.”

The exhibit, America’s Gun Culture, will run through Thursday, June 26 at the Dayton International Peace Museum, 208 W. Monument Ave. It is open to the public during regular business hours. For more information, please call 937.227.3223 or visit daytonpeacemuseum.org. 

Reach DCP freelance writer Zach Rogers at ZachRogers@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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