Variety of Opinions Heard in Campus Conversation on Guns

There was no arguing, there were no raised voices and there was no attempt to change anybody’s mind. The contentious issue of gun rights came to Bowdoin’s gun-free campus on April 4, 2018. “Let’s Talk About Guns: A ‘What Matters’ Conversation” drew a large and diverse crowd to the Smith Union’s Morrell Lounge, where a wide range of opinions was expressed. Refreshments and live jazz were on offer as participants were encouraged to sit with strangers and talk about the topic amongst themselves, after which the wider discussion got underway and microphones were passed around.

The event was put on by, among others, the McKeen Center for the Common Good and Make Shift Coffee House, a mobile discussion forum which promotes face-to-face conversations where differing viewpoints can he heard without fear of judgement. “Tonight is about understanding, not about debating the issue or persuading people you’re right,” said Craig Freshley from Make Shift Coffee House, who moderated the evening. “This is an opportunity for people to share their experiences, not criticize other people’s beliefs.”

Among the experiences shared:

A gun-owning preacher described how, on his own doorstep, he held off an intruder who was threatening his family. “My gun stopped that crime,” he said. “I want every American to have the right to bear arms.”

A young African American male from Baltimore talked being almost robbed in his home city over winter break, and how he would like to have the means to protect himself if such a situation happened again. “What I’m scared of is that next time maybe I won’t [be able to get away] and I won’t have the means to protect myself.” A young African American woman, also from Baltimore,  told the crowd how the sound of gunfire was a common occurrence during her childhood, and how she lost a cousin to gun crime. “It’s not my place to tell people not to have a gun,” she said, “but they should know how to use it, and ownership should be properly regulated.”

Others present felt that firearms should not be a part of everyday life. “I’ve been working for gun control for as long as I can remember,” remarked one older gentleman, who recalled an elementary school friend whose father shot his mother and then himself. “I’ve seen many situations in which the availability of guns created criminals,” he added. That viewpoint was echoed later in the evening. “I don’t have a solution,” said one young man, “but the presence of guns tends to cause problems.”


Some audience members expressed concern that gun control measures could lead to a roll back of Second Amendment rights, and the protection they provide against oppressive governments. “The reason the founders put the Bill of Rights in there,” said one middle aged man, who said he was a US Marine Corps veteran, “was to protect against government intrusion on … the liberties of the individual, freedom of thought, freedom to write what you think, freedom to assemble like this.” Another former marine and veteran of Afghanistan repeated the concern. “The invasion of the US may seem far-fetched,” he said, “but if you take away a population’s guns,” he added, “it becomes a more realistic prospect.”

A high school teacher said he was tired of worrying about what he would do if he heard the sounds of automatic gunfire from down the hall. This worry, he said, led him to conclude that “the availability of battlefield weapons on a retail basis does not make me feel a greater sense of liberty.”

One young woman from Maine said she grew up around guns and had had many positive experiences hunting with friends and family. She also said she understood why some people may want a handgun for protection, “but I don’t really understand how ownership of automatic weapons has any utility other than mass murder,” she added.

Others felt the answer to the country’s gun problem goes beyond the issue of firearms. The solution to many of society’s problems, said one student, does not simply lie in gun control, “but in tackling wider issues behind the violence, like mental health and poverty.”

“Let’s Talk About Guns: A What Matters Conversation,” was sponsored by the Bowdoin College McKeen Center for the Common Good, Make Shift Coffee House, men’s and women’s track and field, Helmreich House, Bowdoin Democrats, Bowdoin Republicans, and the Eisenhower Forum.

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Variety of Opinions Heard in Campus Conversation on Guns

  1. David A DeBoer MD MBA ‘80

    This is an Excellent and Bowdoin approach to solving problems. Gather data by listening to each other. Appreciate the perspective of your fellow citizen. Get to know your neighbor before advocating your position. We might be surprised what we can learn from each other.

  2. Kalevi Kotkas

    I was pleased to read that Bowdoin appears to have a civil discussion on the gun issue. As a student in the late 60’s I was able to have a shotgun in my fraternity house and enjoy duck and grouse hunting in Maine.
    I am a US Army veteran and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I am reminded of what my 93 year old mother said , when the communists (Russians) took over Estonia, they confiscated all the guns.

  3. Paul Chutich

    Gun control is certainly a sticky issue in our country, but one that is certainly worth discussing on a daily basis. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people is an old argument, but one which needs to be discussed. If their is no availability of handguns, the possibility of deaths by handguns will go down proportionately. We should also look at the statistics from England, where handguns are not available to the public. I am not against people owning guns per se, but think we could do a better job of controlling who owns them and how many are out there in the public. Handguns really only have one purpose(and I think Lynyard Skynyard made a song about this). The bigger issue is the current trend in this country which is people watching or seeing other people on the news making a splash by hurting other people and therefore copycatting others and doing these awful deeds. The media needs to stop reporting all of these things as a public service to the rest of us who have not been affected by these terrible events. Social media, while sometimes interesting and helpful, also hurts us, by those who are not able to handle it and all that goes with it. Mental health is the bigger issue here in the U.S.

  4. Sarah Arnold, Ph.D.

    I’m so impressed that Bowdoin had this calm, rational discussion. Two points: Do we really still need protection from our federal government as the founders feared when they installed the Second Amendment?
    Secondly, other developed countries do not lose the percentage of their population to gun violence every year that we do—30,000 people a year. We need to look at that.

  5. Sarah Arnold, Ph.D.

    I’m impressed that Bowdoin held this calm, rational discussion on guns in our culture. Two points: Do we really need protection from our federal government as the founders feared when they put in place the Second Amendment? Second, no other developed country has the percentage of deaths from gun violence that we do—-30,000 a year last I heard. We need to look at that.

  6. Drew King '79

    We’ve had enough yelling and accusing. Understanding and dialogue are what we need more of. Congrats to the organizers and the participants for getting the ball rolling.

  7. '16Activist

    If we need guns to defend ourselves against the government–then I feel like we should be considering the governments liberty to use weapons on average people. Instead of having regular people own assault weapons and police have access to a variety of war weapons, why not regulate the access on both sides?

  8. Richard Waldron '70

    When I read articles such a this one, I am amazed by the ignorance of the anti-gun side. When the high school teacher talks about automatic gunfire and battlefield weapons, he has no understanding of what can be bought over the counter and what our armed forces carry on the battlefield. Automatic weapons are not available to the general public, and a study recently published at Quora on people killed by automatic weapons states “That gets the grand maximal total to twenty (20) since 1934.”

    The last paragraph says it all; “tackling wider issues behind the violence, like mental health and poverty.” The vast majority of gum murders take place in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, St Louis, Detroit and Oakland, CA. The common thread is that all are controlled by liberal Democrats. Illinois, Maryland and California have strict gun rules, yet the violence goes on. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have permissive gun laws, yet their murder rates are the lowest in the country. It is not the gun but the culture of violence that results from today’s politicians who reject personal responsibility and the morality of the past.

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