With the rise in conversation concerning gun laws across the nation, Montclair State University’s radio station WMSC gathered a group of experts to speak about the topic and its relevance to the state of New Jersey at length in the station’s first public affairs show.
“Well, one of the things that we’ve been doing is thinking about things that the station could be doing, and one of the things that came up was a public affairs show,” said Cortez. “So with that, we thought of different topics that we could do for the show, and we narrowed it down to two shows for the semester — guns in New Jersey and the heroin epidemic in New Jersey.”
For the first show, Jose Cortez, station manager at WMSC and co-producer; Juan Contla, programming director at WMSC and co-producer; and Annabella Poland, the station’s general manager and the segment’s executive producer, began to work on the piece regarding guns in New Jersey as well as their impact on everyday life. “Working on this project was something much different than anything we’ve done before. We’ve been getting guests to call in and talk stories or topics, but to have all these experts in one room was very exciting,” said Contla.
“Especially with guns being such a serious and sensitive topic to talk about, it was nice to see that we could get people from different sides to discuss the topic and provide listeners with an insight on things they should be thinking about in regards to guns and some of the laws that are in place right now in New Jersey,” said Cortez.
Hosted by Cortez, “Guns in New Jersey” was an hour-long open conversation which addressed the politics, available technology and current laws up for review and also brought opposing views on the subject to the microphone.
The guests for the segment included Sean Sullivan, statehouse reporter at NJ Advance Media, where he covers criminal justice for NJ.com and The Star-Ledger; Mike Kelly, an award-winning columnist for The Record; Jaime Bedrin, a member of the Moms Demand Action group; and Anthony Colandro, CEO and founder of Guns For Hire.
At the start of the show, Cortez opened the discussion among the experts with questions about whether shootings have become a part of America’s everyday culture or lifestyle and why gun-related violence has become so prevalent.
“I would say that the issue is just access. It’s just too easy for guns to get in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them — not just criminals, but little children — people who just shouldn’t have a loaded weapon,” said Bedrin.
In an entirely different part of the conversation, the topic of military-style weapons and their impact on the issue of shootings in general preoccupied the experts. In other words, semiautomatic weapons with larger clips have made it quite easy for those who want to commit mass shootings to do so in a relatively short period of time before being apprehended.
“I think the reason why we see more shootings is because there are too many people who should not have guns, but are able to get their hands on them,” said Kelly. “The thing that concerns me the most, however, are the proliferation of what I would call ‘military-style weapons’ — weapons of semi-automatic technology that can easily fire round after round after round.”
With the other experts either agreeing or disagreeing with his words, the conversation moved onto a different aspect of guns and their presence in New Jersey: mental health. After mass shootings occur, there are often various explanations as to why the shootings happen, some indicating that administering background checks and analyzing the mental stability of those purchasing the weapons should be the first line of defense in preventing gun violence.
“I think the way it works is that, if you’ve been involuntarily committed, you’ll get flagged during the process. But, that doesn’t even necessarily mean that the firearms you already have are going to be confiscated, so that’s something that they’re going to have to address,” said Sullivan.
The first public affairs show at WMSC a success. According to the station, in just one day, the piece had reached 166 plays on the station’s SoundCloud.
“This is very different from what we’ve done before, because it was something that we had to approach very carefully. We wanted to make sure every side of this topic was represented. We have a lot fun on-air and in our offices, but when it comes to professionalism, I think everyone here excelled in making sure we served the public,” said Contla.
“As for the public affairs show, I think it’s something really good for WMSC to be doing. It’s something we haven’t done [before], and it shows the potential that the station has, especially in creating news coverage and public affairs programming,” said Cortez.
The next public affairs show for WMSC will surround the issue of heroin in New Jersey and will be produced by Cortez, Contla and Poland, but be hosted by Thomas Franklin, a journalism professor at Montclair State. Although there is no set date yet, the piece will be taped in early April and should be aired the following week.
“This show and future shows are extremely important because one of our goals is to serve our community — not at Montclair State, but the state of New Jersey,” said Contla. “These are discussions that are happening in every type of federal building, and it’s just great being able be a voice in that conversation.”