What If We Begin Discussions of Guns With Our Commonalities Rather Than Differences?

I wrote recently about the challenge of finding a publisher for my book on American gun culture, and my chagrin that some acquisition editors think there is not a market for a “calm, thoughtful approach to the charged topic of gun ownership” (to quote one rejection). Or, as another editor wrote, “it will be difficult to locate readers looking for a ‘tonic’-like approach such a heated issue.”

Although this is frustrating, I also had a number of experiences last year (2022) that convinced me of the possibility and importance of bringing “light over heat” to the issue of guns. I will post about each of these in turn.

Last fall I was invited to serve as a panelist for a discussion of gun violence organized by Deseret News as part of their “Elevate” initiative. The panel was held in conjunction with the publication of a symposium in Desert Magazine on “How to stop the next mass shooting” (which also looked at the issue of gun violence more broadly).

Of note was the diversity of the panel and the audience at the University of Utah’s Thomas S. Monson Center in Salt Lake City. I represented sociology on the panel, Abigail Vegter from Berry College is a political scientist, and Gary Kleck is a well-known criminologist at Florida State. We were joined by Amy Swearer, a legal fellow with the Heritage Foundation, and Ari Davis from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Audience members included gun rights and gun control activists, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the Mayor of Salt Lake City Mayor and the city’s Police Chief.

What made this event special, beyond the diversity of opinions represented, was that it was structured to begin not with our differences but with what we held in common. None of the panelists or audience members, regardless of their differing views on guns and gun control, were pro-mass shooting or pro-criminal violence.

Although that starting point does not (and should not) mechanically lead to agreement in the end, it fundamentally changed the nature of the conversation we were having. And in a breakout session among the audience, each table was able to find points of agreement in terms of actions that could address the issue of gun violence while respecting the rights of gun owners.

I was pleased that the Deseret News article covering the event began with my point that “guns are normal and normal people use guns.” I was also quoted as saying,

“The more we just focus on mass shootings, the more we’re going to get stalled out. But if we think about why we’re concerned about mass shootings and we leverage that to address broader concerns, and then within that, recognizing that there are legitimate cultural differences in the way people understand guns.”

Another aspect of the event that I thought was very important structurally was that it was held face-to-face. Something I have been thinking about more and more recently, so more on that in my next post.

8 thoughts on “What If We Begin Discussions of Guns With Our Commonalities Rather Than Differences?

  1. I love this concept of starting with: “Where do we agree? What do we have in common?”

    I’ve tried to do this in some online discussions, but with only limited success.

    Hopefully we can do more of this, and less of the demonization/othering of our opponents. “You don’t care about dead babies!” “You want to take away my ability to defend my family!”

    Here’s hoping. Thanks David!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re a great ambassador, so if anyone can do it, you can. Part of my quest going forward is to have these difficult conversations face-to-face rather than online. It’s just hard to do some of these things online. Next week I am Zooming with an old friend of mine to talk about guns. We disagree and I’m nervous but hopeful about how the conversation will go.


  2. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on the face-to-face aspect. Between online and in-print formats, it seems like we’re either preaching to the choir or yelling without listening. Finding ways to have actual conversations in person seems like a way to move things forward.

    As your prospective publishers indicated though, there’s no money in solving the problem, the money is in the conflict over the topic.


  3. Pingback: Having Brave and Empathetic Conversations About Guns | Gun Curious

  4. Pingback: Having Brave and Empathetic Conversations About Guns – Gun Culture 2.0

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