Guestblogger Dean Raizman is a teacher-librarian for Jefferson County Public Schools in Lakewood, Colo. He participated in New Voice Strategies’ VIVA Idea Exchange on school safety, conducted on behalf of the National Education Association.
People who are trying to persuade other people on the righteousness of their position, political or otherwise, often carefully frame the discussion of their topic to make themselves look good and the other party look bad. Kind of like self-advertising. You talk loudly about your strengths and hope people will ignore the weaknesses and contradictions of your positions. Perhaps the most contentious framing in recent times relates to abortion. One group framed itself as pro-choice. The other as pro-life.
This framing of issues extends to guns as well, with groups either for “gun control” or for “gun rights.” The language used in gun discourse has made all positions seem irreconcilable. But maybe positions are not as absolute as the debate has made them seem. Perhaps we have more in common than we think.
I have watched my school district and its union, two usually diametrically opposed forces, consistently come together on difficult issues. Again and again. Even on the hard issues. When I asked my local union director how this happened, he replied, “interest-based bargaining.” This is in contrast to traditional positional bargaining that most people conceptualize when they think of bargaining.
What is the difference between these two different approaches to resolving differences? In traditional bargaining, parties take a positional stance on some issue based on their own needs. For example, teachers want a minimum amount of money for salaries. The school district is only willing to pay so much. Each group takes a stand based on their perceived needs. The traditional approach is adversarial and pits one group against another because the parties are focused on their differences. A positional tug of war ensues.
In interest-based bargaining, parties start with what they have in common as the basis for negotiation. For example, the beginning of negotiations in a school district might be an agreement by both the administration and the union that each wants the students to prosper. Further, they might agree that for the students to prosper teachers need to be continuously honing their skills and this is best served with a strong professional training program. What the two parties do is look for and build upon actions, beliefs, and attitudes that they share. The focus is on their agreements.
Can we apply the principles of interest-based bargaining to the discussion around guns? Or, are all positions mutually exclusive?
I had the experience of collaborating with 10 others teachers from around the country to produce a document titled Sensible Solutions for Safer Schools. We worked together to propose solutions for guns and violence in our schools. This group consisted of “gun rights” and “gun control” advocates. We had our differences, but we shared common ground that was inclusive of all teachers. This work was sponsored by VIVA, which strives to increase participation of classroom teachers in important policy decisions about public education.
I suggest that the same overlap and inclusivity is true for the general population. Despite our differing positions on guns, we share things in common. For example, I argue that no matter what your position concerning guns is, you believe that keeping your children safe at school is a top priority. Agreed? I find it hard to imagine a parent, gun owner or not, who would not agree with this statement.
If we agree on the issue of school safety, are there some action(s) that both sides could find acceptable? Is having a police officer at each school something that we can agree upon? If not that, perhaps we can agree that each school should have a protected recess area and locks and cameras on all doors.
Can we also agree that guns should be kept out of the hands of unsupervised minors? Seems straightforward. Is it intrusive to ask that families have gun locks or gun safes to protect minors from unauthorized access to weapons?
Do we have any shared beliefs that guns should be kept out of the hands of individuals who have committed violent crimes? Can we agree that if you are convicted of a violent felony that you lose your right to own a gun?
How about someone with severe mental illness? Do we have a shared understanding that certain forms of mental illness should preclude someone from owning a gun?
E pluribus unum. This Latin quote is on all our currency and loosely translated means “out of many, one.” With this saying, the founding fathers seem to have identified the biggest difficulty of a democracy: the process of finding consensus from diverse viewpoints. This process can be our strength, as we unite, or immobilize us, and be our weakness. Are we up to the challenge? I believe that if all parties are willing to sit down with one another, and assume positive intent underlying opposing viewpoints, then we can identify our shared beliefs and find a non contentious starting place to discuss and act on public gun policy and law.