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Organizer seeking site for nonpartisan gun forum

A La Salle woman says she wants to have a nonpartisan, just-the-facts forum on gun ownership, but she has had trouble finding a site.

Dani Brzozowski, a small business owner, originally wanted to have the event at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, but the college told her the function's organizers needed to be aligned with a formal group.

Then she said she got permission from La Salle-Peru High School Superintendent Steve Wrobleski to have the event at the school. It was set for the night of March 1.

The day before, however, Wrobleski canceled it, she said.

"I'm disappointed," Brzozowski, an LPHS graduate, said in an interview. "I think that schools are a centrally-organizing community for many people's lives. We often overlook schools as critical opportunities to have difficult conversations."

In an email, Wrobleski described himself as equally disappointed about the change in position. He said the flier for the event did not clearly spell out the event was designed to be nonpartisan. For contact information, the superintendent said, only Brzozowski's phone number was included.

"I was contacted by a community member who Googled the phone number, which took him to a Facebook post of a political event that Dani was a point of contact," Wrobleski said. "This made it more difficult for me and my board president to defend it being nonpolitical. We certainly do not wish to have guns in the schools, but we equally do not want to have any event unintentionally misinterpreted as a political event."

He also said the school didn't want to create any "unnecessary public controversy" ahead of a national 17-minute walkout planned for Wednesday, March 14, to honor the 17 victims of the recent Florida school shooting. Such controversy, he said, could affect the student event negatively.

"I certainly hope that Dani is able to reschedule the event at another location," the superintendent said.

In a message to The Times, Brzozowski said the reason she included her personal number was so the event was not aligned with any political group. She acknowledged being involved in civic and political causes.

"In this instance, the cause, which I think I was very clear about, is providing our community with a safe, open space to learn some basics about gun safety, the state of gun violence in America and legislation related to gun rights and gun control," she said. "The message was apolitical, a fact supported by the diversity of my speakers and my careful avoidance of associating the event with any politically-affiliated group."

In an interview, Brzozowski said she now again wants to have the event at IVCC, aligning it with the student government.

Speaking at the event, she said, would be former NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde and IVCC sociology instructor Jared Olesen, as well as a couple others who are "completely competent." She would be the moderator.

"The idea was that we would present a very apolitical, nonpartisan educational opportunity," Brzozowski said. "This is not about personal politics. It's about giving an opportunity for people to inform themselves in a fact-based environment, not driven by politics."

She said no one is more familiar with gun policy and legislation than Vandermyde and Olesen would have presented hard numbers about gun violence.

"Jared is very forthcoming about nuances in data," Brzozowski said. "People have a tendency to manipulate statistics to make their cases."

She hopes to have the forum later this month. Sooner is better than later, she said, because the gun issue may fade from the news.

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