Gun rights advocates deserve chance at productive dialogue

G. Elliott Morris

Open Carry Texas is scheduled to rally for campus carry on the University of Texas campus at 8:00 a.m. on the first day of class. The organization’s Facebook event page asks that “liberty-minded students” come and show their support for campus carry by protesting against UT students’ “Cocks Not Glocks” protest of campus carry legislation. According to the event page, 50+ OCT members are slated to attend the counter-protest. 

This is not the first time gun rights activists have demonstrated near our campus. Earlier this year, OCT held a march against gun-free zones at the Bullock State History Museum. The conservative website Infowars has also held “flash rallies” on the UT campus.

At the demonstration, OCT will have the explicit purpose of supporting students who back campus carry. At its core, this is not a violent or controversial message. We should allow OCT to support students who intend to carry concealed weapons just like any other group. More importantly, we should recognize that students who back campus carry are students all the same. They have intent to learn and be present on campus for academic purposes just like you and me.

The atypical and unique aspects of tomorrow’s protest are, of course, that some demonstrators likely will be carrying concealed weapons due to the recent implementation of campus carry legislation. Others may be openly carrying off the UT campus, albeit still around students on Guadalupe Street. All the more reason to consider the following: 

UT students should approach the demonstrators with level-headed and optimistic intent to establish a deliberative dialogue — discussion accompanied by debate — with campus carry activists. As we have seen too many times on campus, protest can often devolve into a shouting match about “facts” and ardent justification of our own positions without listening to the reasons others use to build their core beliefs. After all, using this approach will not convince OCT to tear up their concealed-carry license and lay down their arms at local police station.

Instead, students and protestors should take the following approach, authored by Scott London in his essay “Thinking Together: The Power of Deliberative Dialogue, when engaging with each other:

Students and protestors should discuss their personal narratives. By focusing on personal stories, participants allow themselves to recognize the validity of contrasting points of view. The common phrase “put yourselves in someone else’s shoes” is exactly what participants should aim for here. In doing so, opposing forces may find common ground to build upon and establish understanding and, maybe, persuasion.

Participants should also ask open-ended questions that encourage discussion. When we are asked vague questions, we are forced to explore our own motives for adopting our belief system. Incorporating vague questions can also force us to shift from fact and statistic-based argumentation, like I mentioned above, to a conversation more about what is socially valuable. 

London says, “In dialogue, people often make points by asking rhetorical questions; but a question, if it is effective, will play on the common values of the group by probing what their implications are, in practical terms, and perhaps highlighting some moral tension.”

If students are looking to engage with Open Carry Texas demonstrators on West Mall and the Drag, the approach above will help develop a mutual understanding between these two communities. In turn, we may be able to find a compromise between campus carry and gun-free zones. A deliberative dialogue will assist in developing a progress-minded debate between those on opposite sides of the campus carry issue. And hey, you might learn something. Isn’t that what we’re all here for anyway?

Morris is a government junior from Port Aransas. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @gelliottmorris.