Hastings expert sits on White House gun control panel

Brian Farragher is the executive vice president of Brian Farragher is the executive vice president of ANDRUS in Yonkers. (Jan. 14, 2013) Photo Credit: Handout

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A Hastings-on-Hudson child advocate, invited to offer advice to the White House on how to address gun violence, said the country needs to tackle the underlying issues that drive people to become violent.

Brian Farragher was among about 30 experts invited by the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation to sit on a gun violence prevention panel. Farragher is the executive vice president of Yonkers-based ANDRUS, an organization that works to help heal children and families who struggle with mental health issues and developmental disabilities.

"Let's just be thoughtful about how we define violence," Farragher said Sunday. "This is about gun violence, but I do believe that in mass shootings a lot of the stories are that they [perpetrators] have been mistreated, marginalized and bullied. We need to take a look at the tone of our public discourse."

Vice President Joe Biden is expected Tuesday to deliver recommendations to the president on approaches to curb gun violence in the wake of several mass shootings, including one that killed 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn.

In preparation, Biden has met with national officials, including Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and representatives of the National Rifle Association. Further, several White House department heads have convened panels of experts -- including teachers, mental health advocates, business owners and more -- to solicit advice about effective approaches, according to a White House spokesman.

"I've worked with kids for 30 years now, and a lot of the kids I have worked with have been victims of violence," Farragher said of the expertise he had to offer.

Farragher said the panel of about 30 people was diverse, including representatives of government organizations, social media and nonprofit foundations.

Panelists generally agreed that the national conversation shouldn't be just about mass shootings but instead should focus on the overall safety of children, Farragher said. Farragher encouraged lawmakers to remember that children die every day from gun violence.

Almost 2,800 children and teens were killed by guns in the United States in 2009, according to a Children's Defense Fund analysis of national data.

"Violence in itself is a much broader issue in our country," Farragher said. "We should definitely have fewer guns because it's far too easy for upset people to pick up a gun, but there's a lot of violence that lays underneath. I do believe that physical violence erupts only when people have been subjected to social and emotional violence."

Farragher said that at ANDRUS, counselors approach children with a philosophy of "It's not what's wrong with you, it's what happened to you." He said the country needs to find ways to change a "culture of violence" and embrace people who have been marginalized by poverty and racism.

"Even in the tone in the country, there's a real lack of civility. The discourse is violent and mean-spirited," Farragher said. "It's no wonder that that erupts into physical violence."

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State proposals for strict gun control measures drew praise from some lawmakers but opposition from Hudson Valley gun rights advocates. David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, has said the Obama administration should focus on preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns.

Farragher said the panelists advised the White House to broaden its definition of gun violence and include social and emotional education, as well as mental health screenings and other services, in its proposals.

With The Associated Press

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