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December 10, 2021
 
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Spanning diverse perspectives across America‘s deep guns divide, the leaders and practitioners in the Convergence Dialogue on Guns and Suicide Prevention marked the conclusion of their yearlong engagement by releasing their final report and convening a virtual public event to highlight its conclusions and strategies to save lives.  

At the release event, Dialogue participants described their collaborative experience as successful, productive and eye-opening – not only the substantive work advising on pathways to prevent gun suicides, but also the collaborative dialogue approach that generated trust and the ability to reach common ground across the group’s differences. 

In their report, the participants emphasized that the national conversation on guns in America is often counter-productive, and is likely to remain unhelpful as long as the 44% of Americans who live in households with firearms feel misunderstood, while those proposing reforms related to guns feel similarly caricatured. 

According to Convergence Sr. Director of Projects Russell Krumnow, who managed the Convergence Dialogue on Guns and Suicide, “Many participants said they had not been at a table with people that held perspectives opposing theirs. In fact, some participants began their conversation with us by saying that they simply didn’t believe there would be any point in coming together.” 

Krumnow noted the difficulty of creating a process to generate a dialogue that was simultaneously positive and substantive, while inclusive of both gun rights and responsibilities advocates and gun violence prevention groups, as well as firearms industry representatives, suicide prevention experts, researchers, and mental health and medical practitioners. 

The participants who shared the group’s findings during the virtual event credited the Convergence Dialogue process for breaking through what had felt like an impasse.  

Dialogue participant Chris Cheng, The History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 Champion, said that he was thankful the Convergence experience gave gun owners “a voice at the table,” which he explained was far too unusual. 

“For me, the Convergence dialogue was very much about highlighting the variety of gun owners we have in this country,” said Cheng. "This Convergence group was able to focus on how we move forward in this conversation [on] firearm deaths in America and the focus on suicide prevention and mental health. This group had very strong consensus that if we dedicate more time, attention and energy [to these issues], we can really move the needle."  

Coming from an entirely different perspective as an emergency room physician, Dr. Emmy Betz, Professor of Emergency Medicine at University of Colorado School of Medicine, agreed that the emphasis on building trust and finding common ground across the emotional divides made for a different and uniquely constructive conversation.  

“I personally was really grateful to be pushed to think about how we expand this work...[to] make it about all different groups and recognize diversity within the firearm community, [and] the need to pull in other trusted messengers [to] reach people who are going through tough times,” Dr. Betz said. “Sometimes it was really uncomfortable, but in a beautiful way, especially these days, [when] it feels like we are all in our bunkers.” 

The speakers emphasized that the diversity of experience and viewpoints of the dialogue participants, which also included both rural and urban perspectives, made the Convergence dialogue uniquely impactful. 

Doreen Marshall, Vice President of Mission Engagement at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), said that the dialogue “highlighted where the system is broken.”  

In addition to the panel discussion with Krumnow, Betz, Marshall and Cheng, the event included two dialogue participants who discussed the suicide prevention work of their organizations that the report spotlighted: Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project, the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization for LGTBQ+ youth; and Mike Sodini, Founder and President of Walk the Talk America, which works directly with firearm manufacturers and retailers to promote mental health, suicide awareness and critical gun-safety practices. 

Please take the time to read this important report and watch the illuminating conversation with our Dialogue participants. And, if you, like us, are inspired by how people of goodwill can come together across terrible divides to solve problems in a collaborative and trusting environment, then help us get the word out! What can you do?

Use the buttons below to share this article, share the report, share the video, and sign up to receive updates from Convergence. Tell everyone you know that bridging differences and solving problems through collaborative dialogue offers a better way, and it works! It’s time – and ‘tis the season – to share messages of hope until they begin to stick.
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