I wince whenever people refer to me or any of my acquaintances as a “gun nut.” But then so do a lot of collectors, hunters, dedicated sportspeople and anyone else who owns any firearm, for any purpose. I say “certain people” because many gunowners have accepted the term. In the same way that the N-word (or in my country the ‘K’-word) is regarded in some circles as a badge of honour, perhaps calling oneself a “gun nut” diffuses the malice by firearms aversive observers. As a confirmed gun nut, I’ve found it increasingly perplexing as well as highly infuriating to come to the conclusion that we, the gun nut brethren, are sometimes our own worst enemies. How does that happen?
Maybe the kind of guy who sticks up for his gun rights ends up wired a certain way. It could be a reaction to the initial feeling at some stage that gun owners are getting shafted by, well take your pick: the government, a stuffed shirt civil servant or overzealous cop.
Possibly you’ve been there yourself. A friendly looking stranger makes a casual remark about guns at the water fountain, the hot dog stand or over a social barbecue. You’re presented with a conversational opening. You simply cannot resist this apparent gift: an instant two-way dialogue allowing you to present your view on a subject dear to your heart.
Uh-oh. You’ve fallen into the trap of forgetting that this is a stranger. You have no idea of this person’s background, worldview, mindset or opinion on armed self-preservation. All you’ve established, in milliseconds, is that they ‘looked friendly’ (read innocent). This is where things can can go pear-shaped and postal.
In another lifetime, I worked as a direct sales trainer. One of the main criteria for an even half decent ‘pitch’ (apart from studying body language): never to take an opposing view. Never disagree with anything anyone else says. Never make a single contradictory statement, not during the initial exchange.
Everything you utter should come in the form of a query, either by way of a “wouldn’t-you-say?” or a “how-does-that-figure.” Use the even more subtle tactic of inflection, lifting ones tone or pitch at the end of a sentence, thereby offering a ‘conversational opening’ that many find difficult to resist.
This methodology works because there’s a certain truism about every ‘successful’ (read non-confrontational) conversation that’s been borne out over millennia: the person that asks the questions controls the conversation.
Ask yourself this; during your average daily routine, who are the most ‘enjoyable’ people you meet? The ones who ramble on about their back pains, in-growing toenails, their cost of living? Or the ones who are more interested in your day, how life’s treating you, how your job or life is going, maybe your view on a subject. What a no-brainer. Wouldn’t you think?
For many people, this is a matter—or technique rather—-that’s already established firmly in their own mind, either through personal experience, inherent insight, or professional training. Where a lot of us fall down, including myself quite often, is not remembering the dynamics of a pitch or forgetting why confrontation doesn’t work.
Although I’ve never considered myself anywhere even near an expert on any subject, in my sixty years on the planet I have learned that in every civilised interaction between individuals, at some point a “sale” is made or lost. Whether it’s who makes the coffee, who has the remote, or which house is your ‘dream’ home or car, someone has to make that pitch. Someone else has to agree it was the best choice, or not.
Taking someone by the proverbial hand and leading them to that that choice thinking it was made of their own free will is a better way than beating them over the head with a conversational baseball bat. Winning that particular ‘conversational battle’ about gun rights may end up with you—all of us eventually losing the war.
As Nelson Mandela said “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
[Martin Hedington is the Administrator for The Black Gun Owners Association of South Africa: “The fight against gun confiscation masquerading as control”]