After the mass shooting in Newtown, communities around the nation began dialogues on what steps might be taken to reduce gun violence. Some states have adopted new laws, and in others no resolution has been forthcoming. As Congress returns next week to to take up the issue, political parties and citizens alike remain deeply divided on how to proceed. Simple discussion of the issue can raise strong emotions.
What makes dialogue on this issue so difficult? We were asked by the National Institute for Civil Discourse in February to write an essay on this issue. Some of the reasons why dialogue on this issue is so difficult are:
- All of the primary sources of conflict are present in this one issue. These include differences in values, interests, and information, as well as other differences.
- Instead of identifying and exploring these differences, discussions relating to gun violence too often focus prematurely on action items and are posed in “either/or”, “us v. them” terms.
- This then inflames regional and other differences, and reinforces suspicion and distrust of those who don’t “share the same way of life”.
- Fear, alienation and anger make it difficult for individuals to process new information, and in many cases leads to the automatic rejection of new ideas and approaches.
It is, however, possible to plan for and promote civil, productive dialogue. This kind of dialogue is crucial if we as a country are going to find ways to reduce gun violence in our communities. How leaders and citizens might promote that kind of dialogue will be discussed more in our next post.
You can download a complete copy of our essay “Aim Higher, Dig Deeper”, as a pdf here. The essay links up to additional resources through endnotes. You can click on the endnote number to access the related text. This essay was prepared for and with funding by the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse, as part of a collection of essays on supporting a national conversation about gun violence. The collection has also been posted on the NICD blog.