Mason project gives students safe space to discuss guns in America

(Credit: Megan Zendek/Fourth Estate)

Last Thursday, the Dialogue and Difference Project hosted “Perception of Guns,” which gave students the space and tools to discuss what could be changed to end the pro-gun and pro-regulation debate.

About 30 people attended the event, which provided pizza to its attendees. While many attendees were conflict analysis and resolution majors, some were members of the military and others simply said they were there because they liked discussing current issues.  

The evening began with several videos that presented different sides of the gun debate. These were followed by small group discussions, each with a facilitator who was there to stimulate discussion and ensure participants were respecting one another, as is the typical format of Dialogue and Difference Project events.

This event came a few months after President Obama’s executive action on gun control in January and after the CNN town hall that was hosted at Mason.

Obama’s actions were met with resistance from many pro-gun advocates and politicians. Marco Rubio said Obama’s orders would “take away our guns,” and Jeb Bush said the plan would take away the rights of those engaged in private gun sales. However, according to, a project based at the University of Pennsylvania, private gun sales would be unaffected by the president’s proposition, and law-abiding citizens would still be able to purchase guns.

Supporters of Obama’s plan say expanding background checks to reduce gun violence will make the process of purchasing guns more efficient, according to a CNN/Operational Research Consultants (ORC) poll conducted in January. The poll found 67 percent of Americans favored Obama’s executive actions, and 32 percent were opposed. It also found 57 percent of gun owners are in favor of stronger background checks.

However, since Obama’s executive orders in January, not much has changed. A few states, such as Minnesota, have introduced legislation that would require a background check for every gun purchase, instead of only before the owner’s first gun purchase, according to an article by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Many attribute the lack of action to the Republican-controlled Congress, according to The Hill.

The only change that has occurred in Virginia was Gov. Terry McCauliffe’s reinstatement of a reciprocity agreement in January. The agreement, which Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring banned earlier that month, mandates that Virginia honor concealed-carry permits from 25 other states. After McCauliffe (D) reversed the policy, Virginia Republicans controlling the General Assembly agreed to take away gun rights from anyone under a two-year protective order for domestic violence offenses. They also passed legislation requiring state police to attend gun shows to provide background checks for private sellers, but only if the seller requests the service, according to an article in the Washington Post.

Mason’s Dialogue and Difference event — inspired largely by these events — was planned and carried out by conflict analysis and resolution majors James Mullin and Emily Allen, as well as global affairs and conflict analysis and resolution double majors James McAdoo and Dana Ek. All of the project’s interns are juniors at Mason.

The videos featured perspectives and opinions from both pro-gun and pro-regulation points of view, which was something that those attending took into account.

Groups discussed how easily one could use statistics to manipulate an issue, and many attending the event recognized this in a pro-regulation Vox Media video, saying the information in the video was important, but not entirely convincing. Many at the event were pro-gun and had concealed-carrier permits.

The small groups discussed the influence violent media like video games have on gun violence, as well as the benefits and pitfalls of implementing stronger government regulation. They also discussed the value of educating people about guns and maintaining a strong sense of responsibility.

One attendee, a former Marine, discussed the importance of feeling comfortable with a gun, and stated that, while serving, he learned about guns’ internal mechanisms, which helped teach him the importance of respecting guns and being accountable.

One group proposed making gun registration similar to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ system (DMV), but members admitted that such a system could make it difficult for those in rural areas to visit centers and update their registration.

Another group proposed the creation of a program to educate children in public schools about guns, which could be modeled after the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program, more commonly known as D.A.R.E.

Although the three small groups discussed several aspects of the issue, all three tables had one common takeaway: the United States needs more gun education and gun education programs.

The next Dialogue and Difference Project event is “Does Government Represent Us?” on April 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Research Hall 163. More information can be found on the project’s website.