Triggered: My Story of Being Scared Witless and our Living Room Conversations on Guns

We are thankful for the stellar hosting and beautiful writing we’re permitted to share with you this week from Houston’s Harold Rocketto:

I recently had the distinct pleasure of hosting two online Guns & Responsibility Living Room Conversations. To say I was nervous about hosting is an understatement. I know the topic from both sides, but I was still nervous. Who would show up? Would it get adversarial? Would participants get a better understanding of the issues and walk away with something tangible from the 90 minutes they spent? 

In case you are wondering about my politics: out of college, I was a very moderate Republican (this was 50 years ago). Over the years, I believe the Republican and Democratic parties have moved away from my centrist position. I am slightly liberal socially and slightly conservative fiscally. In today’s environment, that makes me an independent.

I first learned about guns soon after I graduated college. I worked in the mountains about 30 miles west of Scranton, Pennsylvania. I became a marksman, yet conversely, was a rather poor shot at trap shooting. I started carrying a handgun, and collected rifles and handguns. With a short-barrel .38 caliber police special, shooting from the hip, I could keep a can in motion at 25 feet with all five shots.

Around this same time, one night I found myself walking home from a girlfriend’s house in my apartment complex. I was a little tipsy and a little nervous for no special reason. It was late and I was tired. I heard a noise in the bushes, pulled my gun, and put it next to a little boy’s head, cocked and ready to shoot. At the last second I realized what I was doing, and pulled back.

After this, I stopped shooting entirely, and over the next few years gave away all my guns. From my perspective, carrying a gun required special and ongoing training and a certain attitude about the responsibility that goes along with having a gun. At the time I did not have either.

Returning now to my Living Room Conversations, I can say with exuberance that all the right things happened. Hallelujah! People showed up to “listen to understand.” They became more knowledgeable about why other participants believed in or did not believe in things like comprehensive background checks, red flag laws, recognizing the need for counseling before a catastrophe happens, keeping children safe in their schools, assault rifles, magazine sizes, federal and local gun control laws, or their absence. There was a consensus that different states and different localities needed to tailor their gun laws under a better umbrella of federal laws (i.e. one size does not fit all). The Conversations were wide-ranging, respectful, and provided a safe place to express beliefs. Many had done target shooting and liked it but not to the point of owning a gun. Most said they did not have enough knowledge about the issues. Many said they would find out more on their own, which is all anyone could hope for.

I came away with the firm belief that no one in these Conversations wanted to confiscate guns, they wanted somehow to assure that guns would not be used to kill and injure innocent people. I also came away with the firm belief that this Living Room Conversation could help diminish the divide between people who do not want additional gun laws, and those who believe that they are needed for safety.

Please consider sharing your stories with us? You might end up in a weekly note yourself! And let me know if I can help you learn to host or hold Living Room Conversations to diminish divides in your community.

Beth G. Raps, PhD
Development Partner