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. 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. 
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.
 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.