Courageous Conversation about Gun Violence
Setting for a Safe Environment:
- Set up the room with a small circle of chairs (4-8).
- Place Guidelines for the Conversation around the room in large print or on a projection screen (For samples of Guidelines see this link).
- Small circle of chairs
- Paper and pencil for each person
- Small cross or some other marker to serve as a talking stick
- Printout or screen for displaying Guidelines
- Printout of prayers
- Bell or chime for beginning and ending times of silence
- Microphone -- to enable all to hear the speaker(s) clearly
The following is based on a 90-minute timeframe. Adjust as needed.
- Opening Prayer (3 minutes)
- Overview (10 minutes)
- Setting Aside Baggage (10 minutes)
- Personal Assessment of the Situation (10 minutes)
- The Spiral (40 minutes)
- Break (5 minutes)
- Large-Group Reflection (20 minutes)
- Closing Prayer (2 minutes)
Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center the group and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples see this link.)
Give an overview of the main topic of discussion. Point out and read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this space is a safe place for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives.
Setting Aside Baggage*
Form people into small groups, with a maximum of three people to a group. Allow each participant no more than two minutes to name questions, fears, or hesitancies about the topic. Remind the participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not for discussion – that will come later.
Personal Assessment of the Situation
Make sure each person has a piece of paper and pencil for this exercise. Give participants 5-10 minutes to write down biblical stories, passages, doctrine, facts, and other opinions that support their ideas about gun control.
(The purpose of this exercise is at least twofold: (1) It gives participants a chance to write out and reflect on their beliefs [and hopefully their assumptions]. (2) It will help counterbalance any ideas that might provoke or derail the conversation, since participants have had a chance to calmly consider their positions previously.)
This style of group dialogue allows participants to voice their perspectives freely. If needed, ask speakers to use a microphone so that all can hear.
In the room, place six chairs in a circle. Include a cross or some other symbol to serve as a talking stick within the circle. It is a good idea to include other symbols as well (candles, altar, etc.). Allow participants to sit anywhere except the circle. After a time of prayer or silence, invite whoever would like to enter the circle to do so. Once the circle is full [it is fully acceptable if this takes some time], one of the participants may use the talking stick to speak. Be sure to designate a time limit. Once the individual has completed speaking, he or she passes the talking stick to the person on the left. Individuals may return to their seats after the person on the left has completed speaking. Once people leave their seats, the seats within the circle are open for someone else to take. Thus people spiral in and out of the circle.
After approximately 20-30 minutes of using the spiral in this method, the facilitator could allow a little more dialogue back and forth by allowing participants in the circle to stay until after they have spoken twice.
Large-Group Reflection Time
This time is for the larger group to reflect on some of the statements that were made during The Spiral. The aim is to reflect on the perspectives heard from other participants.
This is the part of the exercise that will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments, but encourage the freedom of various other perspectives. The facilitator’s role is also to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows as the result of particular comments.
If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated. This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).
Before ending, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I will take with me from this conversation is…”
End with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples see this link.)
*For more detailed instructions about these models, consult The Little Book of Cool Tools for Hot Topics by Ron Kraybill and Evelyn Wright.
Teachable Points about Gun Control (The following is a minimal representation of teachable points. Be aware there are many others that could be included. The aim of these outlines is more about listening and uncovering assumptions than hosting a debate or passing on information. As noted in the Introduction to the Sample Courageous Conversation Outlines, the point is not providing more information or arriving at a consensus.)
- Scripture passages of note (a minor sampling)
- Discuss and distinguish between
- See also ¶162 in the Social Principles of the Book of Discipline.
- A talking point that is worth exploring
“Overall, about a third of all Americans with children under 18 at home have a gun in their household, including 34% of families with children younger than 12.”
The conclusion of a 2013 study across 27 nations concludes: “The number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death in a given country, whereas the predictive power of the mental illness burden was of borderline significance in a multivariable model. Regardless of exact cause and effect, however, the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer.”
“About half (48%) of gun owners said the main reason they owned a gun was for protection, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in February 2013. About three-in-ten (32%) said they owned a gun for hunting. That was a turnaround from 1999 when 49% said they owned a gun for hunting and 26% said they had a gun for protection in an ABC News/Washington Post poll.”
The following resources are not an endorsement of any particular viewpoint. Rather these are some of many potential resources that could be of benefit for those looking for more information or in help to broaden perspectives.
- Gundamentalism and Where It Is Taking America by James E. Atwood
- Courageous Conversations for Youth: Gun Violence
- 90-minute film: Armor of Light
- Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis by Daniel Webster and Jon Vernick
- Faith & Leadership Articles on response to Gun Violence
- Article: United Methodist Meet to Discuss Gun Sense
- Article: Bishops call for rejecting 'idolatry of guns'