Interactivity Foundation https://www.interactivityfoundation.org Engaging citizens in the exploration and development of possibilities for public policy. Wed, 07 Aug 2019 20:45:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 106091496 Concert, Conversation, and Lunch Series https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/concert-conversation-and-lunch-series/ Mon, 08 Jul 2019 21:37:38 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9760 How better to spend an afternoon than with music, conversation and lunch in beautiful spaces filled with literature and learning? I am the founder of Culture Saves. I’ve been organizing music performances for several years now to inspire people, restore hope and unite different communities through the arts.  And, as a violinist in the Kennedy ... Read more »

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How better to spend an afternoon than with music, conversation and lunch in beautiful spaces filled with literature and learning?

I am the founder of Culture Saves. I’ve been organizing music performances for several years now to inspire people, restore hope and unite different communities through the arts.  And, as a violinist in the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra (aka Washington National Opera Orchestra), I’ve performed and collaborated with international artists in my own events.

With shared goals of uniting people and for the love of the arts, Culture Saves partnered with Iona Senior Services and the Interactivity Foundation for a series of noontime events this past spring at various DC Public Libraries.

Through Iona Senior Services, these events catered to DC residents age 60+ but were open to all adults.  The Spring Concert, Conversation and Lunch Series started with a 30-minute music program before breaking into group discussions facilitated by the Interactivity Foundation over boxed lunch.

The West End, Georgetown, Cleveland Park and Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Libraries each hosted an event.  I organized short concerts and spoke briefly on the history of the featured instruments, the composers and the pieces.  We presented music from periods ranging from Bach to modern American compositions (including my own Con Spero) to romantic Latin American classic songs to Piazzolla’s tangos.  The musicians – all from the Kennedy Center – were cellist Igor Zubkovsky, bassoonists Joseph Grimmer and Samuel Blair, baritone Jose Sacin, clarinetist Benjamin Chen, and me on the violin.

According to Iona Senior Services Education and Wellness Program Manager Lena Frumin, the conversations drew some participants to this series.  Interactivity Foundation Fellow Ieva Notturno organized the roundtable discussions on topics including “the future of the arts and society” and “the relationship of the arts to community, loneliness, and mental well-being”.

Back by popular demand, we organized the summer series. We kicked off the Summer Concert, Conversation and Lunch Series on June 13th.  Our next event will be on Friday, July 12th at the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library. It will feature the mandolin and guitar duo Musalliance, which offers virtuoso interpretations of classical, international, and folk favorites. There are over 70 people already registered to attend this event!

You can register for our future events at https://www.aroundtowndc.org/summer-lunchtime-music-programs/

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IF Helps Train Summer Camp Counselors https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/if-helps-train-summer-camp-councilors/ Mon, 08 Jul 2019 15:43:37 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9757 IF Fellows Ieva Notturno and Jeff Prudhomme worked with Lauren Wilson, Director of Community Engagement at the National Building Museum in D.C. to prepare 8 counselors for an upcoming summer camp, Investigate Where We Live, in which teens from D.C. will explore outdoor public spaces around the city. The National Building Museum’s training lasted several days, and IF’s ... Read more »

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IF Fellows Ieva Notturno and Jeff Prudhomme worked with Lauren Wilson, Director of Community Engagement at the National Building Museum in D.C. to prepare 8 counselors for an upcoming summer camp, Investigate Where We Live, in which teens from D.C. will explore outdoor public spaces around the city.

The National Building Museum’s training lasted several days, and IF’s participation was just one part of it. During the training, the IF facilitators first helped the group explore different things that make outdoor spaces feel welcoming and/or unwelcoming. Then, going deeper, we helped them generate a few possibilities for creating welcoming outdoor spaces. Finally, we helped them to explore different IF facilitation techniques and to brainstorm about how to connect our techniques with their summer program activities.

We are wishing the counselors success with their summer camp!

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Community Conversations on Eviction at the National Building Museum https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/community-conversations-on-eviction-at-the-national-building-museum/ Wed, 19 Jun 2019 14:57:57 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9743 Before the Community Conversation I… “thought that there were few solutions to the eviction epidemic in the US.”  Now I…“realize there are many ways to institute change and policy to eradicate homelessness and decrease evictions nationwide.” —Discussion Participant, April 2019 These words from our first Community Conversation on the National Building Museum’s Evicted exhibit are ... Read more »

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Before the Community Conversation I… “thought that there were few solutions to the eviction epidemic in the US.” 

Now I…“realize there are many ways to institute change and policy to eradicate homelessness and decrease evictions nationwide.”

—Discussion Participant, April 2019

These words from our first Community Conversation on the National Building Museum’s Evicted exhibit are just the sort of response we hoped for when the Museum and the Interactivity Foundation began collaborating on civic engagement programming surrounding the exhibit. Let’s face it, the eviction epidemic, and the broader issue of housing instability, is a downer. How could we engage exhibit visitors in an exploration of the complexity of these topics without leaving them hopeless of any path forward? That was the question that set us on our way.

“Crystal, Annie and Renee” by Miami Workers Center is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The first stop on the way was to convene a pair of exploratory discussions with interested K-12 faculty members. Our intent was twofold. First, we wanted to test an approach to facilitated small-group discussions to dive into the complexity of eviction and to collaboratively generate alternative ideas for addressing the eviction epidemic. Second, we wanted to use those discussions to develop a discussion guide for classroom discussions—something educators could use when visiting the exhibit.

Andrew Constanzo, Director of P-12 programming, and I worked together to convene the faculty discussions over a pair of evening sessions. The discussions were rich—providing a successful test of our discussion approach, as well as generating enough material to help us co-create a Teaching Guide for grades 6-12. The guide includes: topical information to set the context for the discussions, “how-to” guidance about facilitating and participating in an exploratory discussion (in contrast to a debate), and a series of prompts and discussion activities to focus the discussion. We worked with Caitlin Miller, Senior Educator of P-12 Programming, to test the guide as part of the training the museum’s teaching staff to facilitate student conversations. 

The second stop was to engage members of the public directly in conversations, using the approach embodied in our discussion guide. Patrick Kraich, the museum’s Senior Educator, took care of the logistics and set-up, and I took care of the discussion facilitation. Together we hosted a pair 90-minute small-group Community Conversations, the first with five participants, the second with nine.

These Community Conversations followed the trajectory we set out in the guide for educators. The first half of each conversation explored different dimensions of housing, eviction, and housing instability. The second half shifted to imagining different possibilities to address housing instability. We did this by using the “history of the future” approach. I asked them to imagine we were in a future when the eviction epidemic was no more. It was up to the participants as individuals to picture what this might look like. They might imagine it meant there were no longer any evictions—or that they were much less frequent than they are today. I stressed that this was a time to be bold and to imagine possibilities beyond the status quo. Once we talked about some of their visions of the future, I asked them to consider the building blocks from our own time—realities that could be built upon to reach their visions of the future.

This overall trajectory of the conversation helped to shift the mood beyond the sense of being mired in an intractable situation to a more optimistic projection of possibilities. We’re hopeful about the prospects for such conversations and how they could create a sense of civic optimism—around this issue and others. We’re also hopeful about the prospects for collaborations between the Museum—and museums in general—and those of us working in the fields of civic engagement and dialogue and deliberation.

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Busy Times at EnCiv https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/busy-times-at-enciv/ Wed, 19 Jun 2019 14:54:34 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9742 Between projects, design, and testing, it’s a busy—and exciting—time at EnCiv. Regular newsletter readers will remember that EnCiv is an attempt to build an integrated online civic platform, supported by a network of civic groups.  IF was among EnCiv’s founding organizations, along with Ballotpedia (which provides election coverage to millions throughout the US), and ProCon ... Read more »

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Between projects, design, and testing, it’s a busy—and exciting—time at EnCiv.

Regular newsletter readers will remember that EnCiv is an attempt to build an integrated online civic platform, supported by a network of civic groups.  IF was among EnCiv’s founding organizations, along with Ballotpedia (which provides election coverage to millions throughout the US), and ProCon (which provides information on both sides of a wide range of issues).

EnCiv’s project work continues.  Currently EnCiv is considering a repeat of its major election project earlier this year in Chicago, which involved an active collaboration between IF and Ballotpedia.  EnCiv is also working with Ballotpedia on other ways to expand its informational offerings.

While these projects mature EnCiv has been focusing greater attention on platform development and testing.

Development involves working through use cases and designing reproducible sequences that can be made to work online.  Progress on this front has been significant in recent weeks, largely due the addition to the EnCiv team of David Fridley, a software engineer intimately familiar with the ins and outs of online discussion.

Testing means experimenting with citizens to see which sequences work best.  Advances here have come more slowly, mostly due to the familiar problem of recruiting participants.  Still, more than half a dozen options have been identified.  We expect actual experimentation to commence with some or all of them soon.

For a fuller picture of what EnCiv’s been up to and why we’re excited about it, have a look at “Recent Articles” at http://usatalk.org/.

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College Access:  IF Discussion Guide Provides a Pathway for Working-Class Youth https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/college-access-if-discussion-guide-provides-a-pathway-for-working-class-youth/ Wed, 19 Jun 2019 14:50:31 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9739 Continued progress towards full political equality is not likely to occur without real effort.  Consequently, those of us who suspect that American politics isn’t as fair as it should be are faced with a real dilemma.  The situation makes us want to sit on the sidelines, but it won’t improve if we do.  One of ... Read more »

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Continued progress towards full political equality is not likely to occur without real effort.  Consequently, those of us who suspect that American politics isn’t as fair as it should be are faced with a real dilemma.  The situation makes us want to sit on the sidelines, but it won’t improve if we do.  One of the key contributions civil discussion can make to public life is to break through this hopelessness and passivity, not by riling people up, but rather by getting them involved in an environment that builds trust.

–From Chapter 3 of Let’s Talk Politics:  Restoring Civility Through Exploratory Discussion (Gundersen and Lea, 2013) 

If you’ve been following the news these last few months, you’ve undoubtedly run across many depressing stories.  The news tends to focus on negative events, problems, and other information that can steal your joy and rob you of hope.  Indeed, more and more of the people I encounter note that they largely try to avoid the latest news stories as they find that hearing what’s happening in our world tends to leave them feeling depressed, frustrated, and powerless.  Undoubtedly, you’ve felt the same at times—and yet most of us remain plugged-in as we have a core belief in the capacity for our world to change and to become more in line with the ideals with which we started life.

Spend some time with any small child, and you will notice that all of them seem to have a sense of fairness and equity, optimism, and curiosity.  Your sense of justice, which was undoubtedly cultivated early in your life, might have been tested by news that broke this month regarding the extent of graft and fraud enacted by some to get their children into top colleges.  Many of these efforts were illegal, but immoral efforts continue largely unabated.  This might cause you to want to throw in the towel, but we’d encourage you to instead put on your facilitator’s cap and try out the new IF discussion guide with a group of working-class high school students in your community.  We’ve been doing just that in Warren, Michigan, thanks to the efforts of Elaine Bassett, aka “Mama Bassett.”  The discussions she’s done with young people, their parents, and high school and community college advisors in that working-class suburb of Detroit has been profound.

Elementary school initiates our formal schooling and tracks us—even from our youngest years—towards a future that ideally includes college.  In fact, though, only one-third of Americans have a four-year degree (though this is the largest percentage ever recorded in the U.S.).  That number is much lower in places like Warren, Michigan (part of Macomb County, home to GM World Headquarters, where just under 25% of residents have a college degree) or throughout the state of West Virginia where the Interactivity Foundation is based (about 12% of residents there have a 4-year degree).

Throughout the “Rustbelt” and in many rural areas of this country, there is little effort to internalize a sense in kids that “I am college material.”  Indeed, most public schools do little to build this identity in their students, even over thirteen years of study.  Too many students in places like Warren, Michigan, or Parkersburg, West Virginia, develop the sense that, while college seems like a route to a more stable economic future, they’re just “not college material.”  Despite having SAT scores in the 1200 – 1350 range, which is certainly sufficient for most colleges, many of the students Elaine has engaged noted that they had no idea how to apply to college, didn’t think they qualified, or just didn’t want to do more school after feeling marginalized and bored throughout their K-12 years.  One young woman had applied to the local community college, awaited a reply, but never heard back and thus figured she had been rejected.  She later discovered that there is an “open admissions” policy and so no one has to really wait to be admitted.  Well, then, why have an application?

What was so remarkable about the discussions Elain has organized, however, is the impact that they have had.  Simply having an initial discussion about college access inspired one group of seven kids to work together to apply what they talked about in the discussion.  ALL of the kids in that initial group have either applied to a four-year program, finally started at the community college, or otherwise advanced their academic interests by attending a college fair or tour or sending off for information about a couple of local area colleges.  All of them knew that college seemed a pathway to greater success and financial stability, but none had any idea how to get on that track.  One big worry was the cost of higher education.  Even community college costs were prohibitive to several students.  They were not aware of how grants worked and very reticent about loans.  Indeed, one of the most fascinating things we learned is that young people often avoid even starting a program and taking just one class because they worried about “messing up” and wasting that money.  There feels, to them, like there is no room for any risk at all.  However, simply making school “free” was not an evident solution:  most of the working-class folks we engaged were very skeptical of anything that was “free,” something that colleges in the area are increasingly offering as an option—motivated by a genuine ambition to educate more working-class, first-generation students.  Still, their approach may backfire because they are developing policies without talking with the people the policy will most direclty impact.

What seems especially critical is to engage the people you’re aiming to “help.”  The white working class is currently a pariah in our nation.  Their more affluent counterparts—at least the more liberal ones—tend to blame this group for bringing us Trump, characterizing the whole lot as racist dupes.  But an HBO documentary that aired on March 25, 2019, paints a very different picture.  The white working-class in this country is so miserable and hopeless that, for the last three years running, they are dragging down the entire national life-expectancy average.  That average hasn’t declined like that in a century.  Sanjay Gupta of CNN directed the documentary, One Nation Under Stress, and draws out the fact that skyrocketing deaths due to opioid overdoses, suicide, and liver failure are massively affecting white, working-class people in the 35-55 year age range.  In just the last week, one of the people with whom I graduated high school, who still lived in Warren, Michigan, killed himself, and one of my cousins overdosed.  In places like Warren, this sort of thing happens every week.  Job losses among this population have continued unabated since the mid-1980s.  Many people essentially retire in mid-life (often their mid-40’s) and try to cobble together piece work so as to get by, but, increasingly, many are simply giving up.  Suicide rates are up 40% in such regions over the last fifteen years.  These deaths are so common that they now have a name:  “death by despair.”

Young working-class whites, however, are not yet so hopeless.  One of the researchers interviewed for Gupta’s film noted that a bachelor’s degree can literally be the demarcation line between a sustainable life and a life of despair.  Now, there are some good arguments for why it may not be a great idea for everyone to get a college degree.  We do need trades people!  But that is all part of the conversation to be had.  Please contact me, Suzanne Lea, IF Fellow, at lea@interactivityfoundation.org and help us to engage more young people in these conversations.  If you or someone you know is like “Mama Bassett” (Elaine) and find that all the kids in your neighborhood tend to end up at your house, hanging out, let us spring for some pizza so that they can really begin to think about what college is, how it works, and why they very well may be college material (their sense of discovery, ambition, and enthusiasm is immensely infectious—we promise!).  We especially want to see lots more of these conversations in rural and working-class areas where many kids often do not go to college or, these days, even trade programs (which are often housed at community colleges).  YOU can make a huge difference in a young person’s life!  We need an army of Mamas!!

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New Partners—New IF Discussion Series https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/new-partners-new-if-discussion-series/ Tue, 26 Mar 2019 12:28:38 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9713 2019 has just begun and IF has been working with new partners and organizing a new kind of public discussion series. In January IF partnered with Culture Saves and D.C. Public Libraries to bring live music performances and conversations about the future of the arts and society to the public. In this winter series, violinist ... Read more »

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2019 has just begun and IF has been working with new partners and organizing a new kind of public discussion series.

In January IF partnered with Culture Saves and D.C. Public Libraries to bring live music performances and conversations about the future of the arts and society to the public. In this winter series, violinist Michelle Kim and cellist Igor Zubkovsky played some masterpieces from their classical music repertoire; after which the audience sat around tables and shared their impressions, questions and concerns about the future of the arts and society. As an IF facilitator, I was happy to see that by the end of the two sessions the participants had explored all the possibilities in our The Future of Arts & Society discussion guide.

After the winter series, several participants told me how much they appreciated sharing the wonderful experience of live music and conversation with their fellow citizens. I think that it is sad that such experiences are becoming increasingly rare as we spend more and more time staring at our various screens.

In the spring series, we will have four events that will feature four different musicians, locations, and likely discussion guides. This time we will meet in four different libraries around Washington D.C. and will aim to explore not only multiple perspectives, but multiple topics as well.

For this series, we partnered with a few new partners: the D.C. Government’s Department of Aging and Community Living, the D.C. Public Library, and Iona Senior Services, and Around Town DC. We are excited about these new partnerships and grateful to our partners for providing meeting facilities, food, and help in promoting these events.

If you’re in town, please join one or more of these discussion series. You can always find more information on our website and Facebook page.

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What IF? Exploratory Discussions, Museums, and Housing Insecurity https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/what-if-exploratory-discussions-museums-and-housing-insecurity/ Fri, 22 Mar 2019 17:09:46 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9709 How might museums engage their visitors in dialogue and deliberation surrounding the content of their exhibits? This is a question that IF has been exploring in very real terms with the National Building Museum in Washington DC. IF Vice President Jeff Prudhomme has been partnering with educational staff at the Museum to develop discussion experiences ... Read more »

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How might museums engage their visitors in dialogue and deliberation surrounding the
content of their exhibits? This is a question that IF has been exploring in very real terms
with the National Building Museum in Washington DC. IF Vice President Jeff
Prudhomme has been partnering with educational staff at the Museum to develop
discussion experiences and materials to foster deep collaborative engagement with the
Museum’s Evicted exhibit. The activities with the Museum include a short series of
discussions with K-12 educators to explore housing instability, co-creating an educator’s
discussion guide for collaborative discussions on the topic, convening a workshop for
some of the Museum’s instructional staff, and planning a short discussion series for adult participants to take place in April 2019.

Interested in collaborative conversations to explore the concerns surrounding housing instability and to generate alternative ideas to address these concerns? Then please join us for one of our community conversations at the National Building Museum. Sign up here for a paired discussion series on April 10 and 16 (with a commitment to participate in both sessions). Or sign up here for a standalone discussion on April 29.

This partnership is part of a growing initiative on the part of IF to collaborate with libraries and museums as partners for exploratory collaborative dialogues around areas of public concern. Contact us if you’re interested in exploring such collaboration, or if you would like more information about our ongoing projects or materials.

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Upcoming IF Discussions at Neighborhood Libraries in the DC Area https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/upcoming-if-discussions-at-neighborhood-libraries-in-the-dc-area/ Thu, 21 Mar 2019 15:28:48 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9708 For more information, contact IF Fellow Ieva Notturno.

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For more information, contact IF Fellow Ieva Notturno.

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EnCiv Launches Testing Program in Founders’ Home Town https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/enciv-launches-testing-program-in-founders-home-town/ Tue, 19 Mar 2019 18:09:05 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9700 With the successful Chicago municipal election project receding in the rear view mirror, EnCiv has its sights set on the next stage in its development: a thorough experimental program to test the various tools that will make up an integrated civic prototype to present to potential funders.  The testing program is likely to receive a big ... Read more »

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With the successful Chicago municipal election project receding in the rear view mirror, EnCiv has its sights set on the next stage in its development: a thorough experimental program to test the various tools that will make up an integrated civic prototype to present to potential funders.  The testing program is likely to receive a big boost in founders Will Ferguson and IF Fellow Adolf Gundersen’s home town of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

For some months, Ferguson and Gundersen have been exploring a variety of participatory budgeting and/or planning exercises with neighborhood groups in La Crosse to allocate municipal dollars and/or create plans for neighborhoods, the downtown, and the City as a whole.

Ferguson and Gundersen are excited about many aspects of this collaborative opportunity:

  • The real-world nature and scale of at least some of the exercises involved
  • The significant resources already available to them for on-the-ground recruiting (which the Chicago project again confirmed are critical) through personal connections and those of their principal partner, La Crosse Neighborhoods, Inc. (LCNI), an umbrella group representing all of the City’s neighborhood associations (lacrosseneighborhoods.org)
  • The freedom it will afford them to test multiple discussion, decision, and feedback tools as well as a variety of recruiting strategies
  • The probability that initial tests will lead to growing citizen engagement over time

More generally, since participatory budgeting does not typically involve the kind of exploration and interaction that are central to the IF process, EnCiv’s work in La Crosse will thus be not only important to its own development, but innovative in its own right—emblematic of the kind of civic integration EnCiv is seeking to develop and can be expected to lead to more and better civic engagement.

 

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Guns and Society https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/guns-and-society/ Tue, 19 Mar 2019 18:02:11 +0000 https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/?p=9699 It has been fairly common for discussions of gun safety and gun violence to take place in the wake of horrible tragedies. For years the opponents of greater gun regulation (at least the mobilized portions of the pro-gun lobby) would respond to calls societal dialogue on gun issues with the rejoinder, “it’s too soon”. They ... Read more »

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It has been fairly common for discussions of gun safety and gun violence to take place in the wake of horrible tragedies. For years the opponents of greater gun regulation (at least the mobilized portions of the pro-gun lobby) would respond to calls societal dialogue on gun issues with the rejoinder, “it’s too soon”. They seemed to imply that somehow the emotions evoked by mass killings made it impossible to discuss policy.

The public response to the actions taken by the Parkland, Florida students after the mass shooting there seemed to flip that equation. Suddenly the “victims” were no longer silent. They organized, built coalitions with inner city youth in places where gun deaths have left a steady stream of blood for years, and even sat down with pro-gun advocates in an attempt to understand “the other side”.

My colleague Shannon Wheatley Hartman has followed these issues for years. I have organized a number of discussions among gun owners in rural Wisconsin. We have been trying to tease out the possibilities for common ground between the two sides of the “gun debate”. As I have reported in the past, there are some apparent areas for agreement (background checks, mental health initiatives, etc). But the post-Parkland phenomena also raised the possibility that there might be entirely different way to discuss these issues. It turns out that way might be the familiar IF terrain of values and concerns.

In a round of February discussions in Richland Center, WI I posed questions to gun owners inviting them to say what they would like gun regulation proponents know about gun owners and firearms issues. Shannon contributed two follow-up questions that asked these gun owners to tell a story about what gun ownership means to them and to put themselves in the shoes of those who feel greater regulation is necessary. Finally, the participants themselves came up with a case study of “failed gun regulation”: the Clinton-era assault weapons “ban”.

Much of what gun owners had to say had to do with direct experiences with firearms in rural America. It rarely had much ideological content and the 2nd Amendment was mentioned only in passing. More to the point was the desire to be known as law-abiding citizens who pursued shooting sports without violent incident. They approached the assault weapon ban from the standpoint that millions of such weapons are in private hands (and that crimes by those owning them legally are exceedingly rare), that modifications and after-market components create regulatory challenges (a simple part replacement can create an “assault weapon” out of what was a “hunting rifle” moments before), and that much can be done to respect the rights and traditions of gun ownership while keeping firearms out of the hands of those who should not possess them.

The “common ground” portion of the discussion yielded possibilities for actions large (background checks) and small (gun storage issues), but, more to the point, there was a spirit here of offering up solutions, not grudging concessions. Maybe we could call that spirit “Do the Right Thing”.

Dennis Boyer is a PA native who now lives in WI, a Vietnam veteran who achieved an expert marksmanship rating, and spends much of his time outdoors.

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