SUMMARY: Some books on gun reform lean heavily on statistics, others choose a personal story, while others blend the two. Common Ground takes a different path. Penned for small group settings, but useful for the individual as well, author Donald Gaffney‘s focus is teaching people how to talk about guns and gun violence. In the preface, he lays out three rules — confidentiality, trust, and respectful dialogue — that all small groups should use to keep the discussion civil and polite. While not everyone will agree with each other, it is essential everyone treats each other with dignity and respect.
“There’s a popular saying many Christians claim: ‘In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things love,'” Gaffney writes. “Thoughtful Christians are free to have opinions that are radically different than ours. Our challenge is to loves through those differences, honoring each other in those differences as we each seek to follow a common God.”
With that said, Gaffney, who is a gun owner, is a big believer in moving beyond sterile statistics to telling your unique story about guns and how it shaped your view on guns. As a result, he begins the book with stories about two women who experience a situation with a gun and come different good-faith different conclusions about guns. These stories show that people view guns differently within the context of their own life experiences – a fact that we need to aware of when engaging in conversations about guns and gun violence. For instance, in rural America, guns are often seen as family heirlooms, a way to spend time with family, and a way to provide food for family and friends. However, in urban America, guns are often seen as tools of death and destruction.
“I do not dwell on statistics or numbers related to gun violence. Those numbers do not speak to life. People and their stories speak to life. That is why I want to hear people tell their stories…Each number represents a life, and that life is lost, devalued, and made insignificant in the great seas of numbers of individuals affected by gun violence,” Gaffney says. “We all need to tell our own stories, not repeat stories we’ve heard. If we look with eyes that see and hear with ears that listen, we will see and hear Christ in the midst of these stories. That is what having a conversation is all about.”
Part of the conversation is educating one’s self about guns, which is where chapters two and three come into play. Chapter two explains how and why guns are embedded, for better or worse, in American culture and intertwined with redemptive violence. Chapter three explains the major players on the gun rights and gun control debate. At the end of chapter three, Gaffney’s analogy of car culture to gun culture was particularly compelling argument for gun reform.
“As we walk together, it is important that we speak from a point of knowledge rather than simply repeating what we have heard others say. It is better to take a few minutes, check things out, and tell the whole story than to repeat half-truths.”
Gaffney, who is also a minister in the Disciples of Christ denomination, finishes the book with guidance on how to discuss guns with other people and ways to get involved with gun reform. His points of emphasis include empathy, not dehumanizing others, and responding instead of reacting.
“As soon as I dehumanize people, it is very easy for me to express hatred toward them, to respond in anger, or to condemn them,” Gaffney writes. “As I enter into conversations about guns and gun violence, I need to be especially conscious of my reactions as others speak. My reactions may be related to fear, anger, or hatred. I need to name my emotions and own them. I don’t necessarily need to share my emotions, but I don’t want to simply react. I want to respond. I like to make a distinction between reacting and responding. When I react, my emotions are in control. When I respond, I have taken a second to process what I’ve heard so I can foster good conversation.”
Not only will reading Common Ground prepare you for talking about guns and gun reform the questions at the end of each chapter will help you flesh out your thoughts and opinions on topics related to guns. The questions alone are worth the price of the book.
The bottom line is that if you are curious about gun reform and want a short introduction or you want to learn about gun reform with a small group then Common Ground is the perfect book.
KEY QUOTE: “As Christians, we are called to bless even those who curse us. The first step in blessing others is giving them respect as other human beings, even if that respect is not returned. This just starts the conversation.”
BONUS: Listen to Gaffney talk about what he hopes people get out of his book, how a small group can use his book and much more on the CBF Conversations Matter podcast.
BONU S II: Read the preface and the first chapter on WKJBooks.com (PDF).
DID YOU KNOW? Sunday to Saturday has a Goodreads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.
DIG DEEPER: We curated four guided learning paths on guns and gun violence to help you learn about the subject through a distinct Christian lens.
More curated books on guns/gun violence:
Few Christian books can integrate and appeal to Scripture without sounding preachy, pretentious, or perfunctory. Even more so when an author takes on a polarizing subject such as guns. And yet this is what Michael W. Austin’s God and Guns in America excels at. Biblically rooted as well logically sound Austin’s approachable writing style is like sitting with a friend telling you how and why they arrived at a conclusion – in this case his view on guns/gun violence through a Christian lens.
Pastor James Atwood, who passed away in 2020, called gun violence the most important theological issue for the American church. His conviction is rooted in Mark 12:28-34 where Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God and love your neighbor. Atwood says you cannot love God and not love your neighbor, they are fundamentally connected. Collateral Damage is a prophetic call for the church to get involved and not remain silent when 40,000 fellow image bearers are being killed each year while hundreds of thousands more are psychologically and emotionally damaged from the effects of gun violence.
As humans, most of the time we want complex issues to be solved easily. For instance, if individuals with guns are targeting churches, then members of churches should carry guns to counteract the threat. While on the surface that may seem like the logical thing to do, and certainly a good portion of Americans would agree, as Christians we must consider what the Bible has to say. In Whom Shall I Fear? author and pastor Rosalind C. Hughes doesn’t say whether a church should hire armed security or not, but invites the reader to take a step back and answer the question, “What is the church and what is its mission” before deciding how to deal with the violent culture we live in.