SO YOU WANT TO HAVE a chat with someone on the other side of the gun control debate, but you’re worried that it could quickly go south, descending into interminable and acrimonious debate. Well, fear not! Here are a few simple guidelines that can help avoid that outcome.

1. Resist false dichotomies

There are a wide range of positions that Americans hold on issues related to gun control. Polls consistently show that most gun owners support some degree of gun regulation. Similarly, few of those who choose not to own a gun believe that, therefore, no one should be allowed to own a gun. Given this, why does the debate so quickly deteriorate to: “You and Obama wanna take my guns!” on the one side and “You folks just don’t care about the gun violence epidemic!” on the other? The first step toward mutually respectful dialogue is to get rid of the false dichotomies.

2. Don’t caricature the other side

It’s an unfortunate part of our everyday discourse that we often attempt to dismiss our opponent’s position by creating an absurd caricature of it. You know the drill. Someone makes a sympathetic comment about gun regulation and the response is: “Oh, so you want to repeal the Second Amendment!” This sort of caricature avoids serious engagement with the issue by recasting it in terms that exaggerate or misrepresent the other’s position. Serious engagement on this issue, or any other, for that matter, requires careful attention to what the person actually says. Resist the temptation to cheapen the discussion by caricaturing the other’s position.

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