Learning by Immersion on Guns?

When we think of learning by cultural immersion, many of our minds jump to study abroad programs and foreign language courses. But we were struck by Steve Seeche’s recent blog post on his new opportunity to learn about one side of the gun control debate through a different kind of immersion – taking a gun safety course from a second amendment group. Below is the first installment of Steve’s reflections on his experiment in dialogue, which will be followed soon by an update after on he takes the course. You can read more below or find the original post here. Stay tuned to the Public Conversations Project blog for more updates.

Photo Credit: ~Steve Z~ via Compfight cc

Leaping Across the Divide: A New Conversation on Guns (Part One)

I am not violently opposed to guns, but they play no part in my life and I cannot think of a person I know who owns one. As such, I know very little about them, their distinctions and uses. When it comes to the controversy over guns, I think of gun violence—suicide impulses acted upon, family shootings, Newtown or Colombine, two hundred rounds discharged in the Watertown shoot-out with the Boston Marathon Bombers. I have a lot of trouble parsing out the language of the Second Amendment to mean that we ought to be allowed to bear semi-automatic guns and 100-round magazines of ammo. Overall, I have had a real problem understanding people who like guns.

Recently, I attended a dialogue event co-hosted by Public Conversations, The Mantle Project and the Christian Science Monitor called “GUNS: An Evening for Story and Dialogue” (see video here). I went because I have been thinking for a while that the gun issue is not only about guns. I know that people on both sides of the gun debate care so much about the issue because for them, it’s about something deeper and more complex. I went to the event in search of that—in search of what we at Public Conversations call “the heart of the matter.”

At the event, I met an extraordinary fellow. We sat next to each other by chance, and in the course of the program, I found out his name was Brent Carlton, and that he was a co-founder of Commonwealth Second Amendment, an organization established to protect Second Amendment rights.[1] In addition, he was an intelligent, authentic and open person whom I found very engaging and easy to speak with. When he mentioned that he conducts gun safety and use training courses, on impulse I asked if I could attend. He agreed to invite me as his guest. In all of a few moments, I realized an enormous opportunity to learn from him. [2]

So here I am, a board member of Public Conversations, volunteering to chronicle my entry into dialogue with this fellow who stands for something I do not understand. In doing this, I am taking the action that I want us to practice as a society.

In a few days, I will attend his gun safety and training program. I will bring along all my biases and an open heart and a commitment to dialogue. And I will bring respect and curiosity with a hope to learn and participate in some meaningful way in the conversation about guns. I hope to go to those deeper levels of understanding of myself and of those whom I have looked at as “other”— those I have labeled and misunderstood in one way or another—as I listen carefully to what he may wish to tell me. I shall ask for the opportunity to ask him questions of genuine curiosity about guns and his beliefs, values and identity.

Wish me luck; I will keep you posted.

[1] You can learn more about Brent’s organization, Commonwealth Second Amendment, by visiting their website: www.comm2a.org

[2] Before posting this I asked Brent if he might be willing to review what I had written. He graciously offered to help me avoid some of the traps that anti-gun folks fall into when speaking to gun owners and/or Second Amendment supporters. I am very appreciative. Upon his recommendation, I have used the term “semi-automatic gun” instead of “assault weapon” and “magazine” instead of “clip” in the first paragraph. I’m looking forward to learning more from Brent about the range of firearm terminology.

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Henry Brown

Wish there were more of you and Mr. Carlton! People willing to communicate with each other on some of the big issues of the day and if not modify their viewpoint at least be able to understand where others were coming from.