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Boing Boing article argues that science tells us that dialogue is needed – not gun control

I came across a very interesting article today on Boing Boing (one of the most popular blogs on the web) that is noteworthy for people in the NCDD community. Science editor Maggie Koerth-Baker’s thoughtful piece overviewed her findings when she looked into “what the science says” about the questions that are on many of our minds today in light of the horrific shooting in Newtown:

  • Does gun control mean fewer guns on the street and less violence?
  • Does encouraging gun ownership mean better protected people and less violence?

After noting that, clearly, “Everybody wants to prevent what happened today,” Koerth-Baker explained that her research showed that the evidence is inconclusive and contradictory.  In fact, it’s very easy to find research that basically supports whatever opinion you have on the issue.

She then points out that most people reach their conclusions about gun control and gun ownership “with almost no help from science” or statistics. What does influence people’s opinions?  Tribal affiliation. “Statistics don’t convince people. People convince people.”

She quotes professors Donald Braman and Dan Kahan talking about the issue in 2006:

For one segment of American society, guns symbolize honor, human mastery over nature, and individual self-sufficiency. By opposing gun control, individuals affirm the value of these meanings and the vision of the good society that they construct. For another segment of American society, however, guns connote something else: the perpetuation of illicit social hierarchies, the elevation of force over reason, and the expression of collective indifference to the well-being of strangers. These individuals instinctively support gun control as a means of repudiating these significations and of promoting an alternative vision of the good society that features equality, social solidarity, and civilized nonagression.

These competing cultural visions, we will argue, are what drive the gun control debate. They are what dispose individuals to accept certain empirically grounded public-safety arguments and to reject others. Indeed, the meanings that guns and gun control express are sufficient to justify most individuals’ positions on gun control independently of their beliefs about guns and safety. It follows that the only meaningful gun control debate is one that explicitly addresses whether and how the underlying cultural visions at stake should be embodied in American law.

Koerth-Baker goes on to say that this fits with what we know about “how people make up their minds on a whole host of divisive issues. We tend to find people we identify with and believe what they believe.” She talks about how stories are one of the most powerful ways to bridge gaps — not data and evidence.

She concludes with this statement, which supports the work NCDD members are doing across the globe:

Want to prevent gun violence and reduce the number of horrific events like what happened today? Great. Go stop being strangers to each other. Everybody wants the same thing here. Nobody has tapped into any ineffable truths about how to get there. If we want to hash this out in the political and socio/cultural sphere, we’re going to have to stop vilifying the people who disagree with us and start trying to talk about how we can all solve the problems we want to solve while remaining true to our own values.

Read the full article at http://boingboing.net/2012/12/14/what-science-says-about-gun-co.html, and please share this post widely!

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Steve Griffin says:

    I went to the article on Boing Boing that Sandy refers to. The comments, which are rather extensive, are to me better in thinking about the issues from a D&D prespective than the article. I would recommned you read them.

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