Finding common ground in Shelby County over guns, and more

It’s probably none of my business, but I can’t resist the opportunity to tell other people how to spend their money.

The Blue River Community Foundation (BRCF) has announced a $150,000 grant to the organization that can “Ignite Shelby County.” I was in Shelbyville for a roundtable discussion with a few citizens who took issue with my January 2015 column about guns.

Let me tell you about that meeting. It was confrontational, but civil. No one shouted or used strong language. We agreed on as many points as we disagreed.

For instance, we agreed that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. We agreed stronger efforts are needed to stop the uncontrolled sale of guns from car trunks on the streets of our cities and at many gun shows. We agreed it will be extremely difficult to stop gun sales to a person who does not have a formal record of mental instability or abusive behavior.

We disagreed about open and concealed carry permits. But we found compromise on how to deal with the issue if such permits are granted. We agreed businesses and organizations should post notices as to whether or not people with guns are welcome in their establishments.

This approach would be similar to allowing businesses to be, or not to be, smoke-free. Then I could go into a restaurant feeling pretty confident that some patron would not get mad at a waiter or another customer and start shooting.

We talked for nearly two hours. It was stimulating and heart-warming to find common ground and to disagree while maintaining respect for each other. I left wishing all Hoosiers could have such discussions about guns and other topics of importance to all Americans.

And then, over the weekend, from the Indiana Economic Digest, I learned about the $150,000 Ignite Shelby grant. What a boon it could be to hold many of these small sessions among citizens of Shelby County. All sorts of people getting together, probably with a facilitator, to talk calmly about abortion, government, the environment, immigration, education, income disparities and other topics that divide us.

The participants need not enter knowing each other, but they will leave appreciating the humanity of people who disagree with them. When you listen with an open mind to another person talking directly to you, it’s far different from reading or hearing the words of a loud-mouth regurgitating well-rehearsed lines of propaganda.

The people I visited in Shelbyville were sincere in their convictions. Although basic issues remain points of contention, all listened and participated as adults. There was no attempt to diminish the beliefs or feelings of others.

What better project could be undertaken to Ignite Shelby? Small groups of people talking with civility and goodwill might truly initiate a new era of understanding and progress for Shelby County.

No doubt, if the Shelby project were a success, other counties might follow. No Hoosier community wants to be first to try something innovative.

Morton Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker who may be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.