The holidays are a time for sharing in joy and celebrating family traditions. And inevitably some conversations turn political. Here are some suggestions from Brady about how to have a meaningful discussion with your friends and family about gun violence prevention and why it’s a cause all Americans should stand behind.
Having discussions about the best ways to prevent gun violence in our communities and across the country doesn’t have to be political. It can be something that unites us all. Keep reading to get all our tips for making this season’s discussions with friends and family productive ones.
A good discussion always starts with a place of common understanding. Find the ideals that unite you both - like respecting constitutional rights, while also preventing gun deaths - and focus on those. Starting at a point of understanding and recognition of your shared beliefs will lay the groundwork for a more productive conversation, and remind you why you're having this conversation. It's important to emphasize working together to accomplish a common goal, rather than view this discussion as a quick way to change someone's mind.
After you find a place of shared, common ground, let your knowledge and passion as a gun violence prevention advocate shine. Now isn't the time to talk policy, but to share with the other person what you know, and why it troubles you. Stick to statistics that are hard to rebut. Sometimes one or two powerful pieces of information can go a long way. Don't talk down to your audience, but engage them in "did you know?" questions that can easily serve as a transition to hearing their thoughts. The Brady Campaign & Center maintains fact sheets and resources for this exact purpose. Please visit our About Gun Violence, Risks of Having a Gun In the Home, and Armed With Facts pages for more facts that are helpful to take into any conversation.
In addition to staying calm and avoiding stereotypes, making sure the other party feels heard and respected is crucial for a productive conversation. Many people in this country have strongly-held feelings on guns, safety, and liberty. Showing that you also care about their concerns and are creating an opening for their voice will go a long way. Engage in active listening, and attempt to understand why the person is saying or feeling what they are. If you are unsure, ask clarifying questions, like the ones we suggest above. Asking open-ended questions that make your discussion partner feel heard instead of dismissed, is critical for taking this conversation to the next step.
This step is the crux of what most people think of when they envision of a "political debate." But it doesn't need to be intimidating or scary. Keep in mind the tips we've given you up to this point - remain engaged and open, don't get defensive, and continue to share your viewpoints in a calm, rational manner. It's okay if you find a place where you disagree - that is bound to happen - but this is where you can share the results of common-sense solutions like background checks with your audience.
Here are some talking points for how to respond to some commonly mischaracterized gun violence prevention arguments:
"Guns don't kill people, people kill people."
People use a variety of weapons in this world to hurt and kill each other. However, according to FBI data, there were 5 times the amount of homicides committed with a gun compared to a knife over a five year period. Making guns so readily accessible to dangerous criminals because of gaps in the federal background check system increases the chance that they will be used for illegal purposes. Recent high profile mass shootings like at the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas and the church in Sutherland Springs only drive this point home - firearms are far more effective at inflicting maximum damage in a short amount of time. We may not be able to stop all gun deaths, but keeping guns out of dangerous hands saves lives.
"The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
A lot of people say this, but when we look at the data, it turns out that this is just not true. Most gun owners do not have sophisticated training on how to stop a bad guy who is pointing a gun at someone. Police tell us that their work is often made more difficult by untrained, well-intentioned civilians who try to do the work of a trained officer. While an off-duty New Orleans police officer may have a good chance of interfering successfully while a crime is being committed, average gun owners more frequently end up putting themselves, or others, in harm's way in these types of situations. When people carry loaded guns in public places, they are far more frequently used in criminal homicides, or unintentional shootings, than for self-defense.
"Background checks don't matter because criminals never follow the law and purchase guns legally, and it only makes it more difficult for law abiding citizens to access guns."
Some people will break the law but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have laws. Think of it this way -- we have laws against robbing banks, but some people rob banks anyway. Does that mean we shouldn't have laws against robbing banks? Or this -- we have laws against driving drunk. Some people will break them, but shouldn't we still have those laws? Even if we cannot stop every gun death in this country, we should prevent as many as we can. We can do that by enacting bipartisan, common-sense legislation to expand the background check system, while respecting the rights of the vast majority of Americans to have guns. The Supreme Court has agreed that Brady background checks are reasonable and don't infringe on the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. We know that Brady background checks have stopped over 3 million attempts to buy guns by those who are not allowed to have them. Expanding this law to apply to every gun sale will reduce gun deaths in America.
"Gun regulations are a slippery slope to gun registration and confiscation."
We've regulated certain types of guns, like machine guns, since 1934. We've had federal laws about who is not allowed to own guns since the 1960s. And today, there are more than 300 million guns in civilian hands in America. Where's the slope?
Congratulations! You’ve done the hard work, and now it’s time to wrap it up. You probably found a lot of things about which you agreed. Whether you focused on a legislative priority, like background checks, or the risks of guns stored improperly in the home, we hope that you convinced your discussion partner about the need to reduce gun violence. Who knows, maybe you even recruited another gun violence prevention activist along the way. But if you don’t feel that you and your audience are quite on the same page yet, that’s okay. It’s important to build on the conversations that you have this holiday season with your family all year long. Take this opportunity to start a dialogue, and then continue it into 2018. Thank you for being supporters and helping us prevent gun violence every day.