Courageous Conversations for Youth: Gun Violence
By Cindy Klick
Courageous Conversations for Youth are designed to equip a youth leader with a model to create brave spaces where youth can share their thoughts and feelings on pressing topics. The point is not to arrive at consensus, simply for a youth leader to create a space where everyone can be heard.
This resource asks participants to explore gun violence and gun laws by sharing their opinions, doing research, and discussing any local impacts in their communities from violence that includes guns. This guide to create space and respectful discussions is built upon the series published by Discipleship Ministries, "Courageous Conversations" by Scott Hughes. Click here to view the adult counterpart to this resource.
Setting for a safe environment:
- Set up the room with a small circle of five to ten chairs; also consider a comfortable floor space or a temperate, quiet outdoor setting if the weather is appropriate.
- Guidelines for the conversation and covenant created by the small group placed around the room in large print to contain enthusiastic conversation and aid the facilitator’s effectiveness.
- Chairs or other comfortable seating area
- Pen or pencil and small notebook for each participant to encourage journaling
- Smooth stone to serve as a “talking stick,” perhaps imprinted with a word such as “peace,” “harmony,” “calm,” and so on. The word could also be written on the stone with a permanent marker.
- Large Post-it style paper for the guidelines and covenant; large markers
- Printout of St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace
- Chime (could be produced on a cell phone) and/or candle, lighter
- Two-minute game timer or stopwatch
Timeline (One 90-minute Session)
- Opening prayer (5 minutes)
- Introduction to topic (10 minutes)
- Becoming present (10 minutes)
- Personal analysis of topic (10 minutes)
- Snack break (10 minutes)
- Conversation rotation station (30 minutes)
- Reflections (10 minutes)
- Closing prayer (5 minutes)
Timeline (Two 60-minute Sessions)
- Opening prayer (5 minutes)
- Introduction to topic (5 minutes)
- Becoming present (5 minutes)
- Personal analysis of topic (10 minutes)
- No snack break
- Conversation rotation station (20 minutes)
- Reflections (10 minutes)
- Closing prayer (5 minutes)
(Remains the same whether using one session or two.)
Begin by lighting the candle or ringing the chime to represent God’s presence. Begin with one minute of silence. Distribute copies of the prayer of St. Francis and have the facilitator or volunteer read it aloud:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
(Remains the same whether using one session or two; if using two sessions, the second session introduction is a recap of the first session.)
Introduce yourself as the facilitator. Offer a summary of the main topic of “gun violence” and outline the need for a safe space where participants can freely express their opinions and perspectives. As preparation for setting this safe space, familiarize yourself with these guidelines for Courageous Conversations. Be sure to include, at minimum, the following:
- Links to the websites listed at the end of this resource.
- Articles or informational items related to any gun violence events that have taken place in the context of your church area.
- The four points made in “Courageous Conversations: Fear of Speaking Harm.”
- We cannot control how someone responds to our point of view, only how we speak and how we ourselves react.
- Disclaimers can be helpful (I may not say this perfectly, but what I am trying to say is ______)
- Trust that relationships are strong enough to survive misspoken moments and different opinions. Remind youth that all have a place in your ministry and church.
- Respect fellow participants and expect them to be as passionate as you are about their thoughts, opinions, and beliefs.
If group members do not know one another, facilitate brief introductions. Read conversation guidelines (you can create your own list using the link as guidance) and ask for additional input from participants for a covenant of behavior during the conversation. Ensure that all participants understand and can refer back to the covenant—if necessary—during the conversation.
Seek consensus, with participants agreeing to create and maintain a climate of respect and careful listening, which can help them become better friends, classmates, neighbors, and family members. Remind the group of a quote attributed to John Wesley and other theologians, “We need not think alike to love alike.”
(Must happen quickly in two-session format.)
If the participant number exceeds six people, divide into two smaller groups. Allow each participant a minute or two to name questions, fears, or reluctance about the topic at hand. Have each speaker hold the talking stone and pass it to the next person when the time is up. Ask students to put aside assumptions; do not allow interruptions. Remind participants that discussions will come later. The purpose is a dialogue (conversation between two or more people) rather than debate (formal argument). If youth are unsure of what to share, consider offering the following question prompts:
- When you hear the words “gun violence,” what comes to mind?
- Are guns inherently tied to violence?
Personal analysis of the topic
(Remains the same whether using one session or two; if using two, the second session is a review of what was discussed in the first session.)
Distribute small notebooks and writing utensils. Have students put their names on the notebooks to keep after the discussion session for continued personal use. Allow students five to ten minutes to jot down ideas about gun control based on news stories, personal experiences, data, educational information, and opinions that support their ideas. Some suggested links are at the end of this document. This gives participants time to crystallize personal viewpoints and consider positions more calmly. They can refer to notes later as needed. Structured dialogues for learning, as well as reminders to breathe before speaking, helps students avoid the impulse to fight or flee. If participants have the ability to search online, they can certainly use their devices and connections for this portion of the session.
(Only in single-session format.)
Move to a different space or outside, if possible, to allow participants time to breathe and clear their heads from what can be an intense conversation. Offer bottled water and individually packaged snacks that avoid potential allergy issues, such as nuts or gluten.
Conversation rotation station
(Less time available in two-session format.)
Set chairs or seating area in a circular pattern, with an opening at the top and the bottom of the circle. Place the talking stone in the middle. In musical chairs-style, include one or two fewer chairs than the number of participants in that circle, with additional seating outside of that discussion circle. Invite students to bring notebooks into the circle to help them remember discussion points and to jot notes or any information they’d like to remember. Ask those who feel ready to begin the discussion to sit within the circle of chairs. Designate a speaking time limit of two minutes, and ask the first person to pick up the talking stone before he/she begins speaking.
Students may leave the circle at any point to retreat to outer chairs if they feel safer, or if they feel that they have fully shared their point of view and they want to make space for another participant. Ask each participant to try to speak twice, so every group member feels heard. This circular approach invites more discussion than the “Becoming Present” time. Participants can use their notes to bring up points and begin the conversation. If the conversation bogs down or stops, the following prompts can be helpful for the facilitator:
- Can you share a life experience that has influenced your views on guns and gun violence?
- Some barriers that may need to be overcome for others to understand my position are…
- One thing about guns and gun violence I wish I could understand better from those whose views differ from mine is…
(Two-session format requires reflection time to be brief.)
Return to the reconfigured seating area that has been set up so that all participants are included and can easily see one another. Ask youth to bring their notebooks to help them focus the conversation. Give individuals one minute to reflect on what they have heard others say—not to restate their own opinions. Use the talking stone to prevent interruptions. Instruct participants to practice reflective listening-seeking to understand other ideas instead of preparing what they will say next. Allow as many as feel comfortable to close with, “One thing I will take with me from this conversation is . . .”
(Happens the same whether using one- or two-session format.)
Ring the chime and again observe a minute of silence. The facilitator or a volunteer closes the time together by reciting the opening prayer. (Other prayer resources are available here.)
Automatic firearm – firearm that continuously fires rounds when the trigger is activated.
Christian nationalism – primary focus on internal politics, passing laws that reflect a particular view of Christianity and seeking to preserve the status of a Christian state.
Gun control – the set of laws or policies that regulates the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, modification or use of firearms by civilians.
Mass shooting – according to Wikipedia, there is a lack of consensus on how to define mass shooting. Most definitions describe a minimum of three or four deaths due to gun violence, not including the shooter.
School shooting – attack on an educational institution, such as a primary or secondary school or university, involving the use of firearms.
Second Amendment – the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms, ratified on December 15, 1791, along with nine other articles of the Bill of Rights. It goes on to state, “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Semiautomatic firearm – self-loading or auto-loading, a repeating firearm whose action mechanism automatically loads a cartridge into a chamber but requires the shooter to manually activate the trigger to discharge each shot.
- Matthew 5:9, 38-41 – peacemakers, turn the other cheek
- Romans 12:19 – do not take revenge
- Ecclesiastes 9:18 – wisdom over weapons
- Exodus 20:13 – thou shall not kill
- Leviticus 19:16 – do not endanger your neighbor’s life
- Matthew 26:52 – those who live by the sword, die by the sword
- Everytownresearch.org “Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens (ages 0-19) in the U.S.
- More than 3,000 people, ages 0-19, are killed by guns annually (51 per day; 416 ages 0-18 died of COVID-19 1/4/20-9/11/21)
- 3 million, ages 0-19, witness shootings annually
- 549 school shootings from 2013-2019
- 92 percent of hospitalizations of teens in urban areas are the result of a shooting
- Blacks make up 15 percent of all students but 25 percent of school shooting victims
- Handgunlaw.us, https://www.handgunlaw.us/
- What are gun laws like where I live?
- “Our Call to End Gun Violence,” The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church – 2016, Umc.org, https://www.umc.org/en/content/book-of-resolutions-our-call-to-end-gun-violence.
- Parkland School Shooting (PDF, Policy Development Resource,) https://allsidesforschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/For-Students-School-Shootings-Reading-Pack.pdf
- Politifact, The Poynter Institute, https://www.politifact.com/guns/
- Five people died 1/6/21 at U.S. Capitol insurrection
- Fourteen people tied to January 6 attack face federal weapons charges
- Additional guns and ammunition found on at least seven people arrested before and after the riot.
- “16 Facts about Gun Violence and School Shootings,” Sandy Hook Promise, https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/gun-violence/16-facts-about-gun-violence-and-school-shootings/
- Whatchristianswanttoknow.com news and media website https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/how-christians-should-respond-to-mass-shootings-and-violence/
- “What Does the Bible Say About the Right to Bear Arms?” by Mary Fairchild (updated July 9, 2018), https://www.learnreligions.com/the-bible-on-the-right-to-bear-arms-701963