Volunteering with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus during the Game Fair in Ramsey yielded many positive conversations,

but one caught me by surprise. The woman and her husband approached the booth, I smiled and greeted them, and she said, “can I ask you a couple questions about guns?” Cautiously, I agreed, wondering if she was honestly interested, or perhaps opposed to firearms and hoping to start a debate.

It can be quite difficult to keep the dialogue on guns respectful, open and constructive in 2019. My worries were quickly dispelled as I spoke with the couple, as they were kind, curious, and non-confrontational. She started by asking why people need the kind of semiautomatic rifles used in the recent mass shootings. Rather than get defensive or start lecturing her on the Second Amendment (an unfortunate response from many of my fellow gun owners), I asked her if she owned guns (they didn’t), and how familiar she was with rifles.

After explaining to them how a semiautomatic operates, and acknowledging that any gun in the wrong hands can be deadly, we talked about how the AR-15 and variants are common and easy to use, but not intrinsically more dangerous than other firearms. She wanted to know how we can address mass shootings and we agreed the “contagion effect” and media coverage are problematic. These shooters fit similar profiles, and I theorized they use semiautomatic rifles now because there is so much fear, mystique and stigma around the AR-15 and similar guns.

The woman told me this kind of honest conversation is where real change happens; we need more people having respectful dialogue on tough issues. She told me she had these questions for awhile, but didn’t know who to ask, because there are so many arguments/offensive talking points on both sides.

Her openness and vulnerability led me to admit, as a parent with small children in a private school, I have worried about their safety. We had a great discussion on fear and firearms, and how laws banning certain classes of firearms won’t have the desired effect.  After all, the Newtown shooter had 14 uninterrupted minutes to terrorize the elementary school; a shotgun with buckshot or even a .22 pistol could have been used with similar results.

We also talked about suicide, since 80% of gun deaths in Minnesota are suicides of older, white men in rural areas. Obviously, they are using firearms they already own, meaning the proposed “universal background check” laws won’t stop these deaths. She and her husband agreed that red flag laws were unlikely to prevent suicide, and that personal outreach and treatment are better solutions.

The couple thanked me again, and the whole experience left me feeling happy and hopeful. By listening and responding, avoiding emotional talking points, and being open-minded, Minnesotans could actually come together and address the issues underlying violence in our communities. Remember, there are so many quiet people on the fence, who aren’t aligned with either side, and they see how we conduct ourselves on social media/in public.

Danielle Wiener, a stay-at-home mom, has a family cabin in McGregor and lives on a farm in Stacy.

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