How to talk about gun control with your family at Thanksgiving dinner

If you visited my grandma’s house in the small town of Corpus Christi, Texas on Thanksgiving, you would hear the unmistakable sound of fireworks going off as soon as dusk turned to night. Fireworks— squirreled away from Independence Day celebrations — take over the night sky as families sit on their front porches and kids run around in the street. In the middle of the colorful explosions, you’re likely to hear another telltale noise: the sound of guns being shot in the distance.

It’s no secret that we Texans love our guns. So hearing a celebratory shot or two during the holiday season isn’t at all uncommon. My family is also full of gun enthusiasts: an uncle who sells firearms, another who collects them for self-defense, and a cousin in the armed forces — just to name a few. The bottomline is that my state has a huge gun culture that permeates several aspects of life, even the holidays.

Being an avid gun control reformist, my philosophy about guns is obviously hugely different from my family’s — and we’re all extremely vocal about our beliefs. While I do my best to avoid their controversial Facebook posts about the sanctity of guns, it’s much harder to ignore the topic in person over turkey dinner. In fact, it’s even become a tumultuous issue around my friends and family who don’t really feel strongly one way or the other. false

My situation isn’t unique. A recent national survey found that as many as 60% of Americans feel the holidays are stressful, specifically because of fights that spring from political and societal discussions. While some may opt to change their Thanksgiving plans to avoid the conflict altogether, this isn’t an option for everyone. Many are left stuck in a potentially explosive situation with no way to mediate it.

However, your Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to come complete with a side of heated debate.

Instead, a bit of preparation can help you avoid conflict, educate without upsetting less informed relatives, and enjoy some drama-free stuffing and mashed potatoes.

The gun control debate is one that is highly emotional on both sides. Gun enthusiasts feel that reform will lead to the loss of their Second Amendment rights, while reformists cite the history of violence that has followed increased gun ownership. While it can be hard to separate feelings from this issue, repeating the hard facts will help you in this debate.

If you anticipate having a conversation about gun control at the dinner table, here are some of the statistics you should have at the ready.

Is a Second Amendment-loving relative arguing that “more guns save lives”?

Explain that, if a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, women are five times more likely to be killed by their partner. Additionally, firearm experts have conducted independent studies and simulated mass shootings that show “good guys with guns” increase death rates when attempting to intervene — either through friendly fire or self-injury. Stanford University has found that areas with more relaxed gun laws have higher rates of non-lethal violent crime, compared to areas with stricter gun control. (Read more about how to counter the “more guns save lives” argument here.)

Is your uncle saying that stricter gun control won’t stop criminals from buying guns anyway, so why bother?

You can cite that, of the 143 guns possessed by mass shooters in the last 35 years, more than three quarters of the weapons were obtained legally. What might have happened had purchasing those guns been illegal?

Explaining these facts won’t end the discussion outright, but statistics are pretty hard to argue with. Once you are able to back up your position with the facts, you’ll be able to control the direction of the conversation.


Another contentious issue surrounding gun control deals with myths about what stricter regulations would look like. Gun owners worry that increased regulation will remove guns from law-abiding citizens. The rhetoric of “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will own guns” is a favorite of firearm owners and lobbyists.

The best way to counter this is to explain the current gun laws that endanger everyone.

A recent bill was passed in Wisconsin that enables toddlers to use firearms. Earlier this year the Trump administration repealed an Obama-era regulation that required the Social Security Association to communicate citizens with major mental health issues to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Both legal decisions put firearms in the hands of individuals who pose a danger to themselves and others. These are just a few instances explaining why gun reformists want change — and logic makes it pretty hard to argue against these facts.

Many may consider talking politics at the dinner table to be “bad manners,” but this issue has transformed into a major domestic problem. We definitely need to talk about it. You may not be able to avoid an overzealous family member and their shaky opinions, but you can be prepared to intelligently and civilly serve up the facts as you enjoy a well-deserved slice of pie.

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