Bowdoin students and Brunswick residents gathered in Morrell Lounge on Wednesday night to share their perspectives on gun rights and gun control. The conversation was part of the What Matters series, organized by the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good and Makeshift Coffee House, an organization that facilitates open conversations about various topics all around Maine.
This event follows a similar conversation with Makeshift Coffee House about morality and politics that took place in the fall. Tom Ancona, associate director of the McKeen Center, said that he began planning the event with Makeshift Coffee House leader Craig Freshley in January. Ancona noted that the topic of guns has not been discussed much on campus but is very relevant in Maine.
“We thought this would be a good topic where sharing opinions across the Bowdoin community and the greater Brunswick community could be really useful,” said Ancona.
The event was not planned in response to the Parkland, Florida shooting in February or the movement that has grown in response to it, although the shooting undoubtedly gave the topic an even greater urgency.
“This conversation was going to be timely no matter what, but I think it has become more timely, and there’s a lot of people who are looking to have a conversation with people who they disagree with,” said Ancona.
On Wednesday night, the conversation largely consisted of sharing personal experiences and opinions. There was little discussion of the role of the NRA in American politics, interpretations of the Second Amendment or the particulars of local, state and national gun regulation.
A few people talked about the important role of hunting in their life—as a source of food and a way to connect with the world around them—while others discussed times where they believed having a gun did—or would have—protected them or their families from a criminal.
Other attendees argued that access to guns only causes more violence. Amber Rock ’19 said that in her experience, she has seen no situation where guns are beneficial.
Most people who spoke at the event believed in tighter regulation of the kinds of guns that people can buy and the amount of training required to own a gun. A few expressed fear of accidents which can result from children having easy access to guns at home.
Jay Foley, who lives in Brunswick and served in the U.S. Marine Corps, said that he fears for the freedom of a country with an armed military and police and a disarmed population. He feels that gun ownership is an unfortunate yet necessary liberty.
Foley said that his opinions on the topic were set and did not change as a result of the event but that he appreciates this kind of thought-provoking conversation. He enjoys engaging with Bowdoin students about controversial topics.
“Most of the time we’re on the other side of the argument with each other, but we have great conversations, and this was basically an enlarged version of that,” Foley said.
Noah Dubay ’19 also spoke during the event, arguing that guns are usually indicative of broader problems within a society. Afterwards, they said that they felt the event accomplished its purpose, which was not debate or persuasion but rather for people to listen to each other and learn about more where people’s opinions come from.
“My personal stance on the topic hasn’t changed—I didn’t expect it to, plus it wasn’t the point of the event—but it challenged me to think about the issue from perspectives I hadn’t fully considered,” said Dubay.
Freshley founded Makeshift Coffee House after the 2016 election in hopes to encourage people of different political views to talk about topics when they don’t see eye to eye.
Reflecting on the event he noted that many Bowdoin students, who come from around the country, bring perspectives that most Mainers wouldn’t usually hear, while Mainers bring perspectives, especially related to guns, that are unfamiliar to most Bowdoin students.
“I learned some new things and I think it was pretty well balanced. It was great to have young people and older people, Bowdoin people and community people,” Freshley said.