Convergence Center For Policy Resolution

Press Release: Tennesseans Take Back the Agenda on Guns in New Citizen-Powered Initiative to Tackle Divisive Problems

Innovative Civic Engagement Platform by Starts With Us Launches Online for State Residents to Make Their Voices Heard on Eight Gun Rights & Safety Proposals

NASHVILLE, Tenn.Oct. 30, 2023 —  Today, Tennessee becomes the first state in the nation to participate in a civic experiment empowering citizens of all parties and perspectives to tackle divisive issues together. Now through late November, Tennesseans can weigh in on eight proposals addressing gun rights and safety via an interactive online platform. An ideologically-diverse group of 11 citizens (the “TN11”) from counties including ShelbyMadisonDavidsonHamilton, and Carter authored the consensus-based proposals with input from subject matter experts. Their collaboration comes as part of Citizen Solutions, an innovative problem-solving process created by Starts With Us, a nonpartisan organization building a movement to overcome toxic polarization in America.

In August, the TN11 — which includes a pastor, a firearms instructor, a high school teacher, a therapist, a former Highway Patrol Captain, and a public safety official — gathered in Franklin for a three-day solution session hosted by Starts With Us and Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, the leading organization bridging divides to solve critical issues. The process guided attendees to discover common values and debunk stereotypes on the path to creating a set of solution proposals to advance both gun rights and safety. The proposals they drafted include:

  • Allow courts to temporarily remove someone’s firearms if they are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others based on certain criteria showing they are at risk of committing violence
  • Broaden the School Resource Officer (SRO) role beyond standard law enforcement to include human services practices such as mental health first aid, trauma-informed care, and principles of child development
  • Take an incentives-first approach to gun ownership rights and responsibilities
  • Develop and promote tools for responsible gun ownership and offer trainings on how to use these tools
  • Ease the path to — and expand opportunities for — restoration of gun ownership rights for certain people formerly convicted of felonies
  • Reduce Adverse Community Environments and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and adult trauma that leads to gun violence by investing in youth and community development
  • Develop gun issue literacy resources for schools, communities, and the media
  • Require a handgun carry permit to possess a loaded handgun in public (note: the TN11 reached majority but not unanimous consensus on this proposal and now asks the public for feedback)

The current public feedback period, powered by the newly-launched digital platform, will help ensure the final proposals incorporate a wide range of perspectives and concerns and serve as a representation of Tennesseans’ viewpoints.

The participants, who were initially skeptical of their ability to reach consensus, felt a renewed optimism and hope for Americans’ ability to cooperatively solve problems after their time together. Arriell Gipson Martin, a Memphis community advocate, was struck by the importance of listening to others’ experiences before making assumptions about what they believe. For three days, we dived past stereotypes and political catchphrases and talked about real people in real life. We talked about solutions. I’d be lying if I said we agreed on everything. I’d also be lying if I said we walked away unchanged,” she said.

Jay Zimmerman, a veteran from Elizabethton who works in mental health and suicide prevention, echoed this sentiment, saying, “I deal with my problems in the mountains, and others deal with theirs in the city, and they look awfully familiar. This process has broadened my perspective. We are all in this together, and we’ve got to find a way to solve problems together as Tennesseans.”

Following the solution session, eight subject matter experts on gun violence prevention, the Second Amendment, and firearm policy reviewed the proposals and offered suggestions on feasibility and implementation. These experts, along with the session participants, will review the public’s feedback and incorporate it where applicable; once final, the proposals will be publicized. Citizens will be empowered to use the proposals, and the example set by the TN11, to press politicians and the media to stop pushing divisive narratives and capitalizing on wedge issues and start being accountable to the will of the people.

Citizen Solutions is a response to the emerging tide of citizens exhausted by political division and ready to roll up their sleeves and solve problems. A Starts With Us poll found that 8 in 10 people across partisan lines believe it is very or extremely important for citizens to be involved in finding solutions to problems facing our country. Meanwhile, the public’s trust in politicians continues to wane, with only 32% of Republicans and 37% of Democrats saying that solving problems is extremely or very important to elected officials.

“In three days, eleven Tennesseans courageously did the hard work of democracy while, just a few miles away, their elected leaders remained gridlocked on some of the same issues,” says Ashley Phillips, Head of Programs at Starts With Us. “We’re grateful to have piloted this participatory process in Tennessee and now, with insights from everyone who made it happen, will expand Citizen Solutions to give citizens nationwide a reason to believe that solutions are possible.”

“The TN11 developed the kind of wise and durable solutions that only come from incorporating the concerns and needs of citizens who see the world very differently from each other. We are grateful to the TN11 for demonstrating that working together works,” says Mariah Levison, Interim CEO of Convergence and a seasoned consensus builder. “In doing so, they are inspiring and equipping their fellow citizens to follow in their footsteps.”

To learn more about the process and weigh in on the solution proposals, go here.

About Starts With Us

Starts With Us is a rapidly growing civic movement equipping Americans to overcome toxic polarization and more effectively solve our toughest problems. In addition to more than 2 million followers committed to engaging constructively across lines of difference, Starts With Us’ mission is supported by 240+ ideologically diverse leaders in business, entertainment, journalism, faith, sports, academia, and national defense. It is a project of the Lubetzky Family Foundation. To join the movement, visit www.startswith.us.

About Convergence Center for Policy Resolution

Convergence is the leading organization bridging divides to solve critical issues through collaborative problem-solving across ideological, political, and cultural divisions. For a decade and a half, Convergence has brought together leaders, doers, and experts to build trusting relationships, identify breakthrough solutions, and form unlikely alliances for constructive consensus-based change on seemingly intractable issues. Convergence’s process is improving the lives of Americans and strengthening democracy for a more resilient and collaborative future. Learn more at www.ConvergencePolicy.org.



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