Common Ground

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Dec 2019

Member Reviews

It's hard to rate this book on its merits alone because I agreed so strongly with its point, which is that common ground has to and can be found on the issue of resolving gun violence in America without sacrificing the Second Amendment rights that many hold so dear. I shall endeavor, however, first to discuss its merits and why I rated them so highly, then the point of the book itself.

Of the over 250 books written on the subject of guns and gun violence in America, this is one of the few I've found that looks at it from all sides, not just those of gun-rights advocates or violence-ending advocates. This, in and of itself, surprises me, as none of the gun-rights advocates I've spoken to in real life openly expressed a desire for the violence and mass shootings to continue, at least as part of any organized movement, and many of the violence-ending advocates I know realize that banning all guns outright is not a realistic solution. Not only is this book relatively rare, then, by virtue of that fact, but also by virtue of the eloquence, knowledge, and sensitivity with which the author approaches the topic.

Indeed, where many other books on gun violence in America have started with a recap of our nation's history with guns and/or a summary of the arguments of the two sides of the debate, Gaffney starts his book with a plea for readers to use this book as a basis for group discussion. He even provides specific suggestions for doing so: "The temptation to lead others to your understanding or position seems especially strong when talking about guns and gun violence. This is not a debate you can win by employing what you think is a rational argument. There has to be an understanding among members of the group that no one will be pressured. Everyone is responsible for himself or herself, and everyone is responsible to each other."

Furthermore, he says: "Being attentive while others are speaking and thoughtful in our own speaking is hard with a topic as volatile as guns. We have to work at releasing our preconceptions and relaxing our mood. When we finally do speak, we can speak from our own experience. It is so important that we each speak from our own core, our own feelings."

This isn't to say that Gaffney ignores the fundamentals of either side of the argument, but he does explore them from particular peoples' points of view. "I do not dwell on statistics or numbers related to gun violence," he says. "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. Even around instruments of death, their stories have life. Each number represents a life, and that life is lost, devalued, and made insignificant in the great sea of numbers of individuals affected by gun violence. I think we need to move past the numbers and tell the stories."

So what does that common ground look like, according to Gaffney? It does not start with any particular policy change, at least not any that he discusses in this book. It starts with people making up their minds to "talk across [their own] aisles," before they expect their government to do so. It starts with people actively seeking common ground around this topic in their families, neighborhoods, cities, and up from there. 

Because I agree so wholeheartedly with this argument, I find it impossible to review the book on its merits alone, though it is sound in structure, eloquent in voice (as mentioned), and timely. I answered the questions it asked of me, and am endeavoring to pursue these hard conversations with my family members and neighbors, and even my online "friends," because we all know that something HAS to be done. I encourage every other American within the sound of my voice to read Common Ground too, and actively seek common ground on this all-important topic.
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This is one of a few books that directly addresses gun violence from a Christian perspective. As the title suggests, the purpose of the book is to find common ground in tackling issues surrounding guns and gun violence. Gaffney does a great job of covering basics of the genesis of gun culture in the United States, sociopolitical holds of guns, and suggestions for creating a dialogue with those interested in addressing gun violence. The majority of the book is spent on these basics, limiting the role of Christians or the view of guns or gun violence from a biblical perspective. 

Two issues need to be raised as they are key in understanding gun violence in our society; data and policy. Gaffney says, “One noticeable effect of studying data is the loss of a sense of humanity. Each statistic involves many people— people who died from gun violence. A quick reread of the previous section would indicate how easily people can be replaced by numbers, as pollsters, government officials, and statisticians like to do” And later he reiterates that “There is no way data and statistics can do justice to the people who died and the communities who have suffered so greatly.” Contrary to some advocates on both sides of arguments, data are vital in understanding the nature of gun violence, including how perpetrators obtained guns. These data suggest that in the majority of gun violence, guns are obtained legally; however, with data, we can determine the role of straw purchases and community guns. In this regard, data and statistics can speak for victims of gun violence; they can also contribute to the reduction of gun violence. 

Another critical issue I wish this book discussed is policy, which is heavily tied to the prevention of gun violence. Research in this area suggests raising the gun price to reduce availability, restricting access to guns, and controlling unsafe uses of guns might prevent violence. If these policy strategies had been discussed from a Christian perspective, this book would have garnered a wide audience. However, this book is a good starting point for Christians to wade into the complex issues of gun violence in our society.
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Common Ground is a rather interesting book, a great introductory one to form opinions from facts and think for self but also one that leaves you wanting more information on the topics he is talking about. I have bought this book to a couple of friends of mine to use it to spark discussion and see where our differences lie, which ended up as a decent guide but far from perfect.

It gives wonderful insight to America's roots, asks questions on how the reader feels about it all and offers a nice overview. In short, Common Ground: Talking About Gun Violence in America makes for a good handbook to inspired by and to learn something new. It discusses stereotypes, laws, how firearms are used, effects of them and so on, a really nice variety of topics. On the other hand, being only 120 pages, it lacks quite a bit of depth and often assumes the reader is also an American. There was so much more I wanted to see from the book such as discussing the "why" than "what" but it never quite made it there. 

Unfortunately, there are also bad sides to the book. As an example, the resources. There are a large number of them taking place, from documentaries to news articles and oddly enough, to Wikipedia even. Common Ground, unfortunately, talks about cases at times which are taken straight out of media and not through any journals or books and it even cites Wikipedia which is quite unreliable. Similarly, the entire Guns and Mental Health of Veterans section consists of Dave Grossman's On Killing and only that, which is a doubted book when it comes to its own citing itself. 

All I'm saying is, it is okay to get started with, as long as you do more reading than here.
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The author's painstaking research and attention to detail is obvious in the writing of this book.  The author laid out the information in a manner that allowed the reader to form their own opinion.
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I didn't know exactly what to expect from this book. I read it based on the title and how it could serve me living and ministering in a city devastated by gun violence. 

I was delighted to read the focus of the book is to create dialogue and environments for discussion among people with varying opinions about gun and wha the laws should/ought to be.

Gaffney does a great job of sharing some history on guns and (what I thought was) gives an even-handed look at situation we find ourselves in. This information is important for bring about discussion and Gaffney's questions at the end of the chapter seem like they would help create these discussions. 

Here's where I think the book lost me a bit. It seemed disjointed and didn't flow in the latter portions. A huge focus on Sandy Hook (the author has roots in that part of the country) and kind of lost me on the foundations discussions. I'm not saying the information isn't relevant, just that it seemed to pull away from the heart of the book (and something I think Gaffney does well) -- share a topic with some depth and then introduce discussion questions. 

I'd recommend reading this book though. I think it could be an excellent resource within and outside of the Church.
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