I’m a Gun Owner. Here’s How to Talk Gun Safety with Your Family over the Holidays.
It can be tough to talk about guns at the dinner table. Here are some tips on how to approach these conversations.
The holidays may look different this year, but there’s one thing we can always rely on: heated conversations with family about contentious topics.
I’ve been a gun owner and hunter for decades, and worked in the firearm industry for years. Now I’m a senior advisor at Giffords, working to reinstate responsibility in our national conversation and fight back against the gun lobby’s extremism and fear-mongering.
But there are plenty of people in my life who have been conditioned to be skeptical about moving forward on guns. I compiled these tips in the hopes that they might be helpful if you too don’t always see eye to eye with friends and family on this critically important topic.
Gun deaths skyrocketed in 2020, with over 45,000 Americans dying by gun violence, and that number is likely to be worse by the year’s end. The recent viral TikTok school shooting and bomb threats and the Oxford High School shooting, as well as the verdicts in twoconsequential murder trials, have made this issue top of mind for Americans across the country.
We each have a role to play in the gun violence prevention movement. For many of us, the first step is opening a dialogue with the people we know. So, as families gather to the extent that they can this month, I wanted to offer some advice on how to navigate these conversations.
1. Approach these conversations from a point of understanding
If your aim is to have a meaningful conversation with someone who doesn’t share your point of view, you’re not going to get anywhere by insulting them. Instead, you should try to find a point of common ground to start the conversation.
Using “I” statements, like “I feel this way” or “I believe this is true,” allows you to assert yourself appropriately and avoids making the other person feel like they’re being attacked. If you assume what others think, you put them in a box without any way out.
And remember—you want to build this relationship, not destroy it. You can, and should, reasonably challenge someone’s views without having the conversation devolve into a screaming match.
2. Remind everyone what gun safety looks like in practice
Gun safety and gun violence prevention are not synonymous with taking away guns—that’s a lie perpetuated by the NRA, and it’s successfully eroded how a significant portion of the public views this issue.
Instead, focus on what gun safety and responsibility really looks like in everyday life. This can mean safely storing your firearms, so children can’t access them. Or it could mean complying with and supporting gun licensing and registration practices.
Susan B. Sorenson and Rebecca A. Schut, “Nonfatal Gun Use in Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review of the Literature,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 19, no. 4 (2018): 431–442.
You can also remind them about the consequences of reckless firearm use or access—the weakening of state restrictions around open and concealed carry, for example, means that more people can carry guns in more public spaces, increasing the risk of violence in places like public parks, schools, and hospitals.
Another example is that when people who have committed domestic violence have access to a gun, domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be killed.
Find an issue that’s personal to them, and talk about what responsibility means in that context.
3. Ask gun owners to serve as voice of reason
If you’re speaking to members of your family who own guns, reach out to the responsible gun owners in your life and see if they might be willing to help you facilitate these conversations with your family. By bringing another perspective to the table, you can build trust.
As a gun owner myself, I can offer a few ideas to get started. First, you should remind everyone that your priority is keeping your family safe, and explain that you understand and respect their right to own guns—but emphasize that this right comes with a big responsibility. You can also point out the hypocritical words and actions of elected officials and NRA-backed leaders who use this issue to divide the country and breed hate.
Ask your gun-owning family members to take gun safety seriously, because it’s in their own self interest. Prompt them to think about becoming a leader on this issue—our Gun Owners for Safety Coalition is always looking for new recruits. Giving them a call to action, even a small one, can make a big difference.
And remember to point to evidence that supports your arguments. The gun violence epidemic in this country has produced devastating statistics, and they may be impactful enough to shift the conversation. Here are some resources to get you started.
4. Don’t discourage—keep moving ahead
It’s important to have these tough discussions with your family—but you shouldn’t put too much weight on a single conversation. If the first conversation doesn’t go the way you want it to, as Gabby Giffords likes to say, “move ahead!”
Gun violence prevention is a broad, complex policy area with many problems and solutions. Go into these conversations with an open mind and reasonable goals, focus on building trust, and don’t give up.
As a gun owner, I know how tough this can be. But as a former firearms executive, I also know how important it is. Lives are at stake.
STAND UP FOR SAFETY
Americans are not as divided as it may seem. Join Giffords Gun Owners for Safety to stand in support of responsible gun ownership. We’ll share ways to connect with fellow gun owners and support our fight for a safer America.