Making A Difference

Can We Have A Conversation?
By Genie Jennings,
Contributing Editor

As many gunowners do after each tragedy, for a week or so after the Florida shooting I did not comment or reply to social media comments. Then, I began posting questions on my Facebook page, opening a door to possible communication. I also shared the questions to the numerous pro-gun groups to which I belong on Facebook, as well as my Twitter account.
Despite the results of the initial attempts, I am confident that with perseverance I can elicit true conversations. The definition of a conversation that I am using is the sharing of information between two or more people. Such sharing requires that one person talks, the other person listens and, then, the second person responds and the first person listens.
Conversations are a great method of getting to know people, and coming to agreements on subjects and situations. Sometimes, people reach an impasse and “agreeing to disagree” is their solution.
However, if we are to seriously approach rational solutions to violence, especially in our schools, we must do better than agreeably disagreeing. Early in my experiment it became obvious that most of my responders were simply digging their trenches deeper, and not listening to those who disagreed. We were not having conversations, we were making parallel speeches.
Speaking in parallel means that one person says something, then the other person says something else, possibly on the same topic, but not responding to what the first person said. Often, the first person does not respond to the second person’s statement, but, instead, repeats his first response, sometimes verbatim. The second person does the same. In a civil discourse where no one devolves into name-calling or sarcasm, the result is nothing. Simply, no one has listened much less tried to understand the other person. Both have strengthened their resolve.
My method of conflict resolution has been what is called “spider webbing.” We find a point on which we can agree, then work outwards always finding agreement on points, until we reach a place where we cannot agree. At that point we revert to the last place of agreement, stop the process, and do not discuss the matter further. Instead, we go away and think about the new point at which we agreed.
We have had the opportunity to hear the other person’s stance on moving forward, and can take time thinking about their position. Thinking of the other’s arguments allows us to understand the different ways of looking at a particular part of the situation. This gives us a chance of again finding something on which we can agree. Then, we can resume at the new point of agreement and move further forward in the same manner.
In the early attempts at conversations, we were not able to even get to the starting point that I offered. They became forums for anti-gun friends to espouse their position that guns and various accessories should be further restricted. No matter what arguments were offered against this action as a method of ending school attacks, their responses remained the same.
My gunny friends and I have explained innumerable times the different methods of operation of a semi-automatic and automatic firearm. We have not only disputed, but also offered FBI data, to repudiate erroneous statistics and numbers concerning guns in general, long guns, automatic rifles. Hours and dozens of replies later, the positions and likelihood of agreement on anything remain as they were in the beginning.
However, I do not consider this effort as a lost cause. Far from it. At the very least accepting conflicting concepts makes one’s arguments better. Having these discussions online gives one not only time to study what the other person has said, but to review one’s own replies and consider alternatives that might have had a more positive impact.
I readily admit that I am a confirmed believer in the words of the Constitution. I believe that our rights to keep and bear arms should be pure. There should be no restrictions on what and how many of any means of arms and accessories for those arms a citizen should be allowed to keep and to use. I have stated on more than one occasion that I am as much a danger to my neighbor with a rock as I am with a tank. I am not a violent person, therefore, not a danger to my neighbor. (Personally, I do not want a tank because it would tear up my yard, but, I know Valinda is intrigued with the idea, and I fully trust her to own one.)
It is interesting to try to understand how people can reach very different conclusions from the same events. Partly, it is because of what has happened to each individual in their past. But, there is another factor that is a bit wondrous. People actually have completely different ways of receiving and processing information.
There is still another, even more basic, difference between people. I suggest you read Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions. To overgeneralize, there are those who believe that people are basically the same as they have always been and do not change appreciably, and there are those who believe that human nature can be changed.
The first kind of people, which Sowell labels “Constrained” think that we can look to history to see what others have tried and judge their degree of success, and in the present we should let the majority of people make their own decisions with little outside control. They believe that there has to be a limited degree of constraint so that people respect the life and property rights of others as well as their own, but there should not be a lot of constraint. I am a member of this group.
The second type of person, the “Unconstrained,” thinks that individuals have the ability to apprehend everything solely on their own, and some individuals, who are more competent, should decide for those who are not as competent. They do not think that history has much to teach, because they believe that people can be changed to act in ways that the competent decide they should act.
We see the two visions in our political discussions. Taking a different subject so we can look at it objectively, there is currently a lot of push, as there is periodically, to make us a more socialistic country. The Constrained person says, “Show me a country where socialism has been successful.” The Unconstrained person replies, “It doesn’t matter if there has not been one, yet. We will do it better.” There is little room for discussion at this point.
When I began my quest for solutions, this was one of my first questions. “I believe we all can agree that we want all children to be safe, and do not want to ever have another school shooting. However, should such a horrible event occur in your child’s school, would you prefer that his/her teacher be able to protect the children under his/her care with a firearm, or be unarmed?”
Only the pro-arms people answered the question. Unsurprisingly, those answers were variations of “I want my kid’s teacher armed.” The other side’s answers were: no guns in school; many reasons why teachers were not up to the task of being armed; disarming everyone, if possible; 19- to 21-year-olds at a minimum to start the disarming. Asked for solutions to keep schools safe, answers were things like, “Teach children to be peaceful and kind.”
When it comes to the right to keep and bear arms, the public discussions on school shootings always go to “gun violence” and proposed infringements on our Second Amendment rights. We do not have the luxury of giving up on finding a way to have a conversation.
One thing I learned from Thomas Sowell is that the reply I often heard, “I want children to be safe in school,” was not only what I, with a Constrained Vision, considered a goal. To someone with an Unconstrained Vision, who thinks people can be readily changed to act as the elite think they should act, wanting something is a solution.
Please have conversations with those with whom we are in opposition on this very important subject to our way of life. In those conversations, try spider webbing. We must change the focus from “gun violence” to “violence” to even begin to solve the problem. Understanding that our solutions may be viewed in a very different way by those who see the world through other lenses, can help us go forward.