Finding Common Ground
A professor in Ashland, Wisconsin, brings pro- and anti-gun forces together at the community level, hoping to move beyond the often strident national debate.
Angela Stroud, Professor, Northland College :
“My views on guns are complicated. I recognize how powerful and potentially destructive they are. I’ve had family members killed, self-inflicted, by suicide. But I also am a gun owner. We own five or six guns, mostly rifles, shotgun hunting rifles, but we also have a handgun in our gun safe.
“On the other hand, I know the research on gun ownership. The likelihood of victimization is first and foremost rooted in the home. You’re much more likely to harm yourself or others with a gun than you are to ever use one in self-defense.
“We are going to the gun range in town. And this is the place where a couple years ago I was on the trap team.
“I met someone in town who shoots guns. Sent him a message to see if he was free and he is. So, he’s meeting us there. ”
Theron Rutyna, IT Director, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa:
“I can’t actually arm at work, so. ”
“Oh, did you come from work?”
“Yeah. I was up this morning.”
“There’s this really simplistic way of thinking about guns often, which is people are anti-gun or they’re pro-gun. We like to imagine that this is a simple phenomenon in the culture that you own a gun. And so, you have all of these different attitudes and you must have these different ideas. And that just isn’t true.
“Well, I’m always fast though. That’s pretty quick.”
Theron Rutyna, IT Director, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa:
“I’m used to firearms. I’ve been relatively well trained with them and I’ve been shooting them all my life.
“I carry a concealed weapon permit for both Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“I have no issues with whatever the majority of people want to regulate as long as they don’t want to say, I don’t have a right to. If they say, you have a right to, but you have to do this, yeah, okay, sure, no problem. Guns are as dangerous as cars. I would be fine with regulating them like a car. You have a license, you have training, you have to pass a test and you have to recertify. I personally don’t have an issue. ”
“That’s what I agree with. I mean, you know, when I said that my views on guns are complicated. I think they need to be harder to get a hold of. I mean, our issue with gun violence is that guns are so easy for anyone to get a hold of. And the people who I feel totally comfortable owning guns and carrying them or whatever, go for it. Good. I want it. I want to know you’re carrying, you know. But not Joe Schmo, who could just pick one up anywhere.”
“This is a DPMS model AR-10. It currently has a 10-round magazine in it. It is capable of 30 and 50 round magazines. Safety off. Shot.
“No, I did hit it.”
“The best part was shooting a shotgun. I don’t like AR-15s. Personally, I don’t enjoy shooting them. I’m not into long-range tactical precision shooting. I don’t, it’s not a hobby of mine. And I also, you know, I have a lot of mixed feelings about even putting an AR-15 on video.
“For a lot of people who have experienced mass shootings, an AR is an emblem of everything that’s wrong with gun culture. And I totally understand that. We live in different realities, you know. If you’ve been affected by gun violence, your reality about what guns are is one thing. And if you’ve never been affected, you can kind of blithely go on with your life never really confronting that.
“Prior to 2008, when I started researching guns, I never really thought about my vulnerability. I never thought of myself as someone who needed to carry a gun in self-defense. But as I started interviewing people and reading books from the concealed carry worldview and watching media on these ideas, I started to develop a fear of crime that I’d never had before. And so, there were times during this research, when I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing, thinking I had heard something. And because I didn’t have a gun available, I thought there’s nothing I can do. I’m completely vulnerable and so are my kids and what am I doing?
“I can easily identify with people who say that there is a risk that there could be danger and so, carrying a gun makes sense. I understand that worldview now in a way that I never did before. I still think though, with my familiarity with the research, that the risk is greater that a gun will be used to harm even the gun-owner than it will ever be used in self-defense.
“I have these conflicting views in myself. I would like not to have to carry a gun in public and I want to do whatever I can to help transform society, transform our politics, so that doesn’t feel like an inevitability.
“Thank you all for coming. I really agree with the sentiments that were expressed about the importance of talking about issues like this at the community level. Getting offline, off social media and having face-to-face conversations is one of the healthiest things we can do. So tonight, we’re going to talk about gun violence, a topic that is more pressing today than it was when I started my research. ”
Elizabeth Holland, Member, Up North Engaged:
“We have to figure out a way to have a dialogue and having somebody like Angela, who is a scholar in this subject, but who is also herself is a gun owner, she is kind of a presence already somewhat in the middle so that both sides have trust and respect for her and that kind of helps to start the dialogue.”
“Guns are unique in their ability to provoke intense emotions and very little productive conversation across different perspectives. And this hit home for me. My book had just come out. And I was back home in Austin and I was at my sister’s house and my mom was there. And they started this debate about concealed carry and they’re like screaming at each other. I’m standing there as someone who just wrote a book about this and not once did anyone say like, ‘well, actually is anything we’re saying true? Do you know anything about this topic?’ And of course, I’m a little sister and the daughter so, like, probably that had something to do with it. But they weren’t interested at all in the facts. As soon as I started talking about the facts, they don’t even want to have the conversation anymore.
“Who benefits when we won’t even talk to each other about serious issues? When we’re afraid, when we’re either afraid of gun owners and guns or that we’re afraid that the government’s going to take our guns. Who benefits when we’re afraid of crime? And who is benefiting from this current political climate where we’re losing the ability to talk to each other about difficult issues? Are we benefiting? The clear answer is no. And that’s something we all have in common.
“I want us to be on one team. Right? Like I’m thinking about this on the community level. And for me, that’s what democracy is supposed to be about, not get the NRA [National Rifle Association] involved in our conversation so we can’t even talk or any other lobby organization. I mean, I’m picking on them because of this topic. But the Gifford’s gun lobby groups have been as problematic. Bloomberg’s groups are not helpful. We need to do this work to a great extent.”
“Why don’t we confiscate cars from crazy people? Why do we only confiscate guns from crazy people?”
“Got to be some regulation, stop somewhere.”
“I own an AR 15. I won’t get into why, other than 38 years in the army. It’s what I’m familiar with. It’s not at home loaded right now.”
“I have a huge fear of somebody has a weapon of mass destruction.”
“When you focus just on the political level or the gun lobby level, people are very entrenched in their positions. They’re either pro-gun adamantly or they are anti-gun adamantly and nuance gets completely lost. But when you start to open the door for conversation and there’s a sense of trust that I’m not here to take away your guns, I just want to talk about are there possibilities for reducing gun violence, then people start to reveal their complexity.”
“At the meeting, there was one man who described how he owns an AR-15 because that gun style came up in the discussion and he approached me after the meeting and we talked a bit. And one of the things that came from that conversation was his willingness to admit that he has ambivalence about some of our gun policies.
“Guns take on a different meaning when you have to kind of recognize that they’re not just one thing. Gun ownership is about identity. It’s about emotions. And that, in this complexity, we need to be willing to engage rationally so that we don’t just stick with these very tiresome pro-gun, anti-gun views and instead, get to a better place.
“We could become much worse than we are today or we could become much better than we are today. I mean, who would have imagined that 15 years ago, that kindergarteners would be learning active shooter drills by learning nursery rhymes about duck and cover from a shooter. It’s becoming so normal already.
“The worst thing that could happen is that we give up any hope at all that there’s change that’s possible and we just naturalize gun violence like we naturalize all kinds of violence.
“So, the worst fear is that we just assume this is just who we are as people.”