Van Ness Neighborhood Happy Hour Offers Discussion on Gun Issues


“Did I make the Humanitini too strong?” the bartender asked as she eyed too many still full martini glasses.

A few patrons at the bar assured her their drinks were fine. They were opting for the clear-headed route for the 90 minute exchange on gun control and firearms laws.   Some patrons cleared out immediately after the discussion, leaving their still full martini glasses behind.  Others quickly gulped them down before leaving.  Some, however, decided to take their time sipping on the drinks while continuing to chat among themselves. 

Tables were filled at 876 Café, a bar and restaurant at 4221 Connecticut Ave. NW. Organizers advertised the humanitini as a $5 drink special where happy hour meets humanities.  The Humanities Council of Washington, D.C.’s website described the gathering as more than just an apple, blackberry or melon martini. The purpose of Humanitini, they said, is to connect “young in Washington, D.C., professionally, intellectually and socially.” 

The Council kicked off its fifth installment of Humanitini March 20 with a discussion titled “The Ethics of ‘Stand Your Ground’ and ‘Gun Control’,” featuring lawyers Allison Brown and Patricia Sulton and moderated by Michael Chambers II. 

“Humanitini is a program at a happy hour that discusses hot topics of the area,” explained Chambers, who is the programs and marketing director of the council.  “With so many people lobbying for gun control here in this very city, what’s hot now is gun control.”    

The discussion opened with highlights of recent events involving gun tolerance and policies.  The first issue, described as the “Poptart incident,” questioned the effectiveness of stricter policies imposed upon students in the classroom in the aftermath of the Newton, Conn., shootings.   Earlier this month, a 7-year-old Anne Arundel County student was suspended for nibbling his Pop tart into the shape of a handgun and pointing it at a student.

 Both Brown, president of Allison Brown Consulting, which works to help schools meet federal benchmarks, and Sulton, principle of Sulton Law Offices, PPLC, which specializes in civil rights cases, were wary of the increased measures in educational facilities across the country.   

“In responding to a significant or traumatic event, the visceral response sometimes is to create and enforce a blanket policy that doesn’t fit the situation,” said Brown, who later added that “It could very well be the case that our community bears the brunt of the force that looks good on its face but turns out to be disproportionate.” 

Brown and Sulton both noted that black students are disproportionately represented  in many school districts for disciplinary actions. 

Other incidents, like the recent fatal shooting in Loudon County, Va., of the high school athlete who accidently snuck back into the wrong house after a night of partying, helped differentiate the Castle Doctrine from Stand Your Ground laws. 

“D.C. upholds the Castle Doctrine, which states that there’s no duty to retreat in the home,” explained Sulton.  “Stand Your Ground laws go a step further and address situations outside your home.  In these cases, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant, who must prove that they were justified in their shooting.” 

William Brown, a native Washingtonian and lawyer who resides in the Van Ness neighborhood in Northwest, heard about the discussion from a fellow colleague.  For him, Humanitini was an excellent panel. 

“Audience questions brought to light how the media is reporting the laws as well as how the schools are addressing the changes within the city,” said Brown. 

Brown would have liked to discuss the effects of gentrification and gun laws more in depth. He thinks that the 2008 Supreme Court decision allowing D.C. residents to own handguns wouldn’t have passed otherwise, but was still impressed with the discussion and  plans to attend the next Humanitini, which will focus on punk rock and Go go music in the District.             

This season’s Humanitinis are held every at 6 p.m. Wednesdays through April 4 at 876 Café.  Ten percent of each evening’s proceeds go toward support of the Humanities Council, which holds other community events and seminars, such as the D.C. Community Heritage Project, Live to Read and Soul of the City. 

“We try to provide a multitude of perspectives,” said Chambers, who seeks more participation from college students and young adults.  “Any way we can provide and increase the diversity of our audience or broaden people’s horizons, we’re willing to try.”