OHIO — All this week, we’ve brought you stories about talking politics across Ohio through the efforts of Braver Angels. 

What You Need To Know

  • Debating issues can often devolve into shouting and personal attacks

  • Students at University of Cincinnati agreed to discuss gun control using Braver Angels rules

  • The sides didn't change their stances, but they kept it civil due to the Braver Angels format

In this story, we show you some of what Braver Angels discussions look like. We asked student volunteers from the University of Cincinnati and their professor and Braver Angels member, Professor Eugene Rutz, to discuss four hot topics using Braver Angels rules. 

These rules include: 1) listening first, then speak, 2) don’t try to change the other person’s mind, and 3) don’t assume group members all think the same.

We put students in red and blue teams. This example focuses on the issue of gun rights. Professor Rutz opened the debate by addressing the “blue” team:  “There’s been a recent Supreme Court decision that undercut local and state restrictions on gun ownership. Why do you think this is not a good idea?”

“Blue” team member MacKenzie Collett, part of UC’s class of 2024, went first: “In 2020, over 45,000 people died in the U.S. from gun related injuries and statistics show that states that enact child access laws, that enact laws that make it illegal to carry a gun in public without a permit and that don’t have stand your ground laws could expect to see 11% reduction in gun-related deaths. That’s almost 5,000 lives and frankly, as someone who every day when I’m watching the news and scrolling on social media sees another politician sending their thoughts and prayers, I’m a little fed up with us acting like this is an issue that we can’t do anything about.”

“Red” team member Jaden Walton of UC’s class of 2025, responded with statistics of his own: “However, one thing I would like to bring up a statistic from the FBI and CDC would be that gun ownership has actually saved on the low end to 500,000 lives to 3 million lives on the high end of that statistic per year. This could be self-defense, home invasion, etc.”

At this point, you might be thinking, “I have several good points to make in this conversation, and the speakers aren’t using them!” That’s true of a lot of our political talks. Remember, the students and Professor Rutz model a Braver Angels style discussion. The primary goal is to listen to understand the other side. Once we listen more, and show that respect, we’re in a better position to share our ideas on issues like gun control.

“Red” team member Alyssa Baker, also of UC’s class of 2025, followed her teammate with an appeal to common ground: “We can come to an agreement. I think that we all feel like life is precious. Everyone can agree that, you know, your life is just as much valuable as the person standing next to you. But I think when it comes to looking at the gun regulations and the gun laws being placed in more limitations on people is that you are taking these defense mechanisms away from the responsible gun owners.”

This prompted Collett to acknowledge Baker’s view while presenting her own: “Well, I definitely see your point and can understand your point about wanting it for protection purposes. I think that’s the exact thing we need to talk about. I don’t think we’re talking about taking away guns from responsible gun owners. I think we’re talking about passing sensible legislation that would keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible gun owners. A lot of the legislation being proposed right now, and a lot of the legislation that currently exists, is about background checks, making sure people who are not the type of people who should have guns can’t. I know there’s a lot of proposed laws in the states to make sure that people who have domestic violence currently on their records can’t obtain a gun. So, I don’t think we’re talking about taking away all guns. I think we’re talking about taking away assault style weapons that could kill hundreds of people in a matter of minutes. And I think we’re talking about taking away guns from people who are not in the mindset to have them and use them responsibly. Because I do acknowledge that there are responsible gun owners.”

Walton followed this with another point about gun owners: “Who are actually not able to obtain a gun if you have any history of criminal record or a mental illness. So, we agree on common ground there. And then in addition to that, 80% of guns that are used for any kind of violence or homicide are actually illegally obtained. And the cities that have the strictest gun laws are actually the ones with the highest homicide rates.”

Baker then added to her colleague’s view: “I feel like by adding those restrictions to for the responsible gun owners who are going through the process, who are doing it correctly, you are further taking away their protection to use against those who are obtaining them illegally.”

It was then time for Professor Rutz to draw the session to a close: “And we’ll leave it there. Thank you. I appreciate your and your input, your insights and from your background. So thank you.”

You might see some of your views reflected in this debate. You may also think one speaker was “better” than another. Rather than a flaw of the exercise, however, the Braver Angels debate style in this gun control conversation reflects how we can have these discussions in real life. In the end, no one had their minds changed. But all four team members listened to each other give their heartfelt perspectives without judging, name calling or shouting. This way of discussing politics may not be the norm, but it might be a “braver” style of hearing and learning from each other on the nation’s most pressing issues.