Around the country, people are grappling with how best to protect their communities and prevent future mass shootings. While it is necessary to develop a shared sense of how to proceed, some fear engaging in public deliberation about such hotly contested issues, especially at a time of such divisive political discourse. Will deliberating together under these circumstances only lead to greater conflict?
The answer to that question is a resounding no, according to John Theis, a political science professor at Lone Star College outside of Houston, Texas. When he was asked a few years ago to moderate a forum about guns on campus he, too, worried about what would happen. Emotions were running high, and people were very divided on the issue. As people deliberated together, they didn’t all agree, but they did see that they all shared a common concern with campus safety. This is no small achievement. Today, Theis said, “We so often attribute these sinister motives to our opponents.” The recognition that we’re coming from the same place, he said, is “hugely important in today’s political environment.”