How to Start a Conversation About Gun Control

Skill of the week (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

Spreading the gun rights gospel isn’t easy. In many cases, it’s the love that dare not speak its name. [Note: Chef don’t judge. Personal experience has proven that Blue State ballistic bashfulness is a survival skill.] But converting antagonists and enlisting fence straddlers is mission critical stuff. Colorado recall or no, Supreme Court intervention or no, we can not defend and extend our natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms by talking amongst ourselves. We have to find new recruits. And it all starts with a conversation. A single, polite, civilized, focused conversation between two people about guns. Here’s my favorite conversational gambit . . .

Sports, politics and religion. Three no-go areas for polite conversation. So when it comes to guns, don’t talk about politics. Don’t trot-out your knowledge of Constitutional law, Supreme Court decisions, New York’s SAFE Act or the differences between urban and rural voters’ understanding of firearms freedom. Don’t talk about the American colonists’ experience battling British gun confiscation. As Archie Bunker said, stifle yourself.

A left-leaning gun-averse or gun-neutral voter doesn’t want to hear about the tussle over gun rights or firearm ownership as a bulwark against government tyranny. It’s like pigeonholing a Catholic on the church’s coverup of pedophile priests. The discussion forces them to reconsider . . . everything. That’s scary. When people get scared they either switch off or get aggressive. Neither is particularly helpful for moving the bullet—I mean ball forward.

Luckily, the vast majority of gundecided and anti-gunners are hoplocurious. Why wouldn’t they be? No matter what their political persuasion, they’ve spent thousands of hours watching good guys “solve problems” with firearms. Chances are excellent they’ve played gun-oriented video games. And they’ve certainly heard the media demonize guns before, during and after mass shootings and other firearms-related crimes. So here’s how you tap into that . . .

Have you ever shot a gun?

Asking someone if they’ve had personal experience with firearms is apolitical (as long as you keep it that way), personal and emotional. It’s a gun guy exploring the non-gun guy’s personal encounters with firearms to see where they are on the issue of gun control experientially. Not logically. Remember logic didn’t get them into their position; it won’t get them out either.

If your conversational partner answers “no, I’ve never shot a gun” or even “no, and I would never want to” no problem. Just nod your head in an approving manner and ask . ..

If you were going to shoot a gun, what kind of gun would you like to shoot?

That’s what salesmen call an “if then close.” “If this car was cheaper would you buy it?” The question removes buying pressure from the customer even as it forces them to commit. In this case, we’re taking a slightly more circuitous route, tapping into the anti or neutral’s imagination. And adding the “would you like to shoot” bit as a subliminal suggestion to our new friend that of course they would like to shoot a gun. Duh.

Steering the conversation from this point forward is like wheeling a Mercedes CLS550 through slow moving traffic. Why a revolver? Did anyone in your family own a revolver? What kind of rifle? Hunting gun, sniper rifle or “assault weapon” (air quotes). Resist the urge to talk down to the future newbie or steer the conversation towards politics. Your friend doesn’t care whether or not the rifle they shot is a “real” assault weapon or what the NFA has to say about that or anything similar. Just talk hardware with passion and enthusiasm.

When schmoozing the complete novice your goal is clear: get them to the range. That’s where converts are made. If you can give an anti or middle-of-the-roader a positive experience with guns, if you can de-demonize firearms, then you can address the subject logically. And if a range trip doesn’t lower their barrier, fine. The conversation is over. Of course, before all that, you’ve got to ask the anti or neutral if they want to go to the range. So do it . . .

Would you like to go to the range and try shooting a BLANK?

Not a literal blank. (Wow, tough room.) If your potential recruit says “no” to your kind invitation to bust some caps then change the subject and forget it. There’s no point beating your head against the wall. It hurts your head and does nothing for the wall. If the now non-recruit won’t go hands-on with a gun, their conscious mind will remain resistant to common sense. Permanently. Or at least until they or someone they care about is a victim of a crime.

If the prospective convert answers “yes” to whether they’ve shot a gun before, delve into the details of their firearms history. Discover the who, what, when, where, why and how was it of their experiences. Again, avoid condescension at all costs. If they hated shooting a gun or guns, ask them why. Recoil? Bad safety? Noise? Create a safe conversational space for them to discuss the subject. Don’t counter or “explain away” the reasons for their discomfort. Just nod sympathetically.

Again, at some point, go for the close: ask them if they want to go to the range. No, it’s not a gay thing. (Hecklers, who needs them?) It’s a People of the Gun thing. As to how you handle the range trip part of the program, that’s a post for another day. Suffice it to say, if you get to thinking you’d rather take your worst enemy to the range than the person you’re recruiting, back off and end the conversation. Not to put too fine a point on it, we don’t need a bunch of assholes on our side.

Bottom line: while gun control is about control, deprogramming gun control advocates or recruiting fence-straddling newbies is all about the gun. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a ten-year-old to roust from her Columbus Day slumber. Gonna take her to buy a shotgun case, whether she likes it or not.

comments

  1. avatar Ralph says:

    For an opening line, I prefer “stick ’em up,” followed closely by “give me your iPhone and wallet.”

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      Now we want to be polite. Don’t forget to get their house keys.

      1. avatar 505markf says:

        And the keys to their Volvo. And most importantly, SAY PLEASE!

        1. avatar Ralph says:

          If they’re actually driving a Volvo, they have bigger issues that they need to deal with first.

        2. avatar MiketheHopsFarmer says:

          Hey hey now. Go easy on the volvos. Ever seen a P1800? I doubt it. It’s like a classic Karmann Ghia (which I own) but with fins! Not also volvos are emasculated San Fran mobiles!

        3. avatar chuck (slave to nj) says:

          I think you mean pink prius

        4. avatar CK in CA says:

          Have you ever shot a Volvo?

          If you were going to shoot a Volvo, what kind of Volvo would you like to shoot?

      2. avatar B says:

        Pretty polite compared to mine. Simulated rape tends to get frowned on in polite circles for some reason.

  2. avatar John says:

    Borrow the immortal words from SNL.
    “(Fill in the blank), you ignorant (bleep)…

  3. avatar racer88 says:

    Great piece, Robert. I recently converted a fence-straddler who leaned anti… by taking him to the range. He LOVED it.

    You said that how you handle the range part of the program is another conversation for another day. But, I think it’s worth mentioning spending some time going over safety and operation of the firearms somewhere OUTSIDE the range is a good idea.

    I spent an hour at my friend’s quiet office going over safety and how the guns work before we went to the range.

    I also think it’s prudent to start nearly every newbie with a .22LR (rifle and handgun) for the obvious reasons.

    After we were done, he asked me, “When can we do it again??”

    1. This.

      Also I’ve found that after the range trip, if you have newbies clean the guns with you they learn how they work and typically actually enjoy that part. When you take them apart to clean they see its just pieces of metal, plastic, and wood. It takes a lot of the mystery out of the gun.

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        Interesting concept … I like it.

      2. avatar 505markf says:

        Nice extension. +1

      3. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        Yes. This. A thousand times this.

        When I now take some firearms apart and casually mention “Oh, and this piece here – I had to make this replacement on X gun…” people will say “With what?” and I’ll detail how I made it – often with minimal machining. A good hand with a file can make a lot of things inside a gun.

        Then people start to see that making guns is not difficult. Gun factories aren’t filled with Orcs and black magic.

        1. avatar pwrserge says:

          Unless you’re Colt… And then you can charge a special Ork feeding fee and black magic reclamation service fee… (Got to do something to get their price point back up.)

        2. avatar Andrew says:

          Fudge. I totally got boned on the Orc Fee when I had *gun part here* replaced.

      4. avatar racer88 says:

        I hadn’t considered doing that. Good suggestion.

      5. avatar Dumbfounded says:

        Yep. Excellent post and responses. I often talk about guns in terms of how they are simple inventions that do amazing things, like cameras… Etc. perfected in an earlier age and little improved on since.

      6. avatar Joe in N Calif says:

        It also allows the conversation to continue. You can tell them how well they did (even if all they did was keep it on the paper at 5 yards – Hey! Gotta build their confidence), and drift into your memories of learning to shoot and maybe how your dad – or mom – taught you how to clean firearms. Ask them what they liked about it, and what the didn’t like. And respond with “OK, we can do more of that NEXT TIME.” and “OH! Well, NEXT TIME we can (fill in the blank with appropriate corrective measure) and see if that helps.”

    2. avatar Accur81 says:

      You’ve got .22 LR ammo?! Send some my way, I’ve got lots and lots of newbies and antis who want to go to the range with me. So I’m gonna need 5,000 rounds or so. Copper – plated HPs would be super, or anything from CCI or Lapua. Thanks a bunch.

  4. avatar Paul W says:

    And for the love of god don’t overload them with jargon. Now is NOT the time to get on to someone about magazine vs clip, or even the term assault rifle (that can come later).

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Exactly. Stick to the safety aspect. Don’t worry about the details that gunnies looooove to debate and argue, stick to the Big Picture. There’s a goal here, and it isn’t that everyone knows that an AR-15 takes a box magazine and a Garand takes an en-bloc clip.

    2. avatar pyratemime says:

      I agree that we shouldn’t get after them about wrong terms. Given that most people not interested in firearms will have little knowledge of the terms I think that the pre-shoot safety discussion is a right time and right way to introduce those correct terms to their lexicon. Past that though don’t correct them just unobtrusively use the right terms whenever you talking to them.

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        Exactly. Use the correct terminology when talking about firearms. People will pick up on it. Don’t make a big point. Using the correct terminology correctly and precisely will also help you project the depth of your knowledge and lend you an air of professionalism.

        When I’m talking about shotguns, sometimes I’ll slip up and use English gunsmith lingo, especially when talking about European guns. Or I’ll use different terms when talking about S&W vs. Colt revolvers. I have to explain that, to gunsmiths, these little nuances mean things, especially if I’m ordering parts on the phone. I explain that for most people, they don’t and need not care about the difference between “bolt” and “cylinder stop” on a revolver – when they’re talking to me, I generally know what they mean and I’ll ask if I’m not certain.

        But I will point out that on some British revolvers… sigh, now we need to use both terms, and they’re not interchangeable.

        The thing I bring up eventually with anyone to whom I’m trying to show the “guns aren’t magic demons” or malum in se, is that the amount of knowledge in the field of weapons is utterly huge. Anyone who says they know everything about guns is simply full of crap. The field is as huge, diverse and deep as you want to go down the rabbit hole. They’re an utterly fascinating aspect of human history.

        The thing I like to eventually point out is this: A moderate familiarization with the field of guns will show even a relative neophyte that “people will find a way to make weapons.” Real interest and study of the long, twisted, arcane path of the development of many types of guns (with the associated vocabulary and nuances) makes this abundantly clear.

        1. avatar CA.Ben says:

          Dyspeptic,

          I have a question, and I feel like you are one of the most qualified commentators to answer it.

          Right now, I am in my second year of mechanical engineering at a California university. After graduation, I would like to work in the firearms industry. Fairly soon, I am going to start sending applications to various firearm companies for an internship period that I have scheduled in the first half of 2015. While I have been shooting since I was about 6, I am not very familiar with the mechanical mechanisms and workings of firearms. I have been trying to find literature on the subject, but quality books on firearms design seem to be few and far between. Most of the books on the subject are the “How to Build a Sub-Machinegun in Your Shop” type.

          Do you have any recommendations on good books for me to study to help me get a jumpstart in this industry?

          Thank you,

          Ben

        2. avatar Leadbelly says:

          If you’re talking to a gearhead, though, the tech details are were you’ll win his/her heart.

        3. avatar Jay1987 says:

          Ben buy the NRA guides they will go a long way or sign up for a correspondance course through a reputable school like Penn Foster or National Gun Smithing Institute.

    3. avatar Andrew says:

      BAM! Paul FTW!

      I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people giving lessons and just completely overwhelming the poor person trying to learn.

      My personal tactic is this:

      “Listen, we’re going to talk about a lot of stuff today and I know you probably won’t remember most of this, and that’s totally okay. The ONLY thing I want you to remember today is to always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Even if you forget everything else, that’s the only thing I need you to remember.”

  5. avatar cyrano says:

    I converted my Sister-in-law the same way. Shooting cans off a dirt birm, with a .22 pistol, melted all the years of Chicago brainwashing away. She now carries a 4 inch SW 357.

  6. avatar ProfBathrobe says:

    What about those people who have had a personal bad experience with guns? For example, how do you get a man who’s brother committed suicide with a shotgun to go to the range?

    1. avatar crzapy says:

      I am still trying to crack that one. I have a friend whose wife had a family member end their life that exact way. I have taken him to the range, and he even wanted to get a gun and keep it at my house, however she cannot let go. She was also the person that found him dead, some battles cannot be won.

    2. avatar pyratemime says:

      Make the offer to go shoot pistols? Seriously, make the offer to shoot something that is as visually as far from the shotgun as possible. Also find out did his brother shoot himself inside or outside and then take him to the opposite type of range. Anything you can do to remove the firearm shooting experience from the suicide gut reaction.

      If the range isn’t an option for starters see about shooting a BB gun just to work your way up to something else.

    3. avatar 505markf says:

      I’d just offer and then drop it if they don’t respond well. People who have experienced deep, personal pain have earned the right to not support firearms, at least for themselves. They cross the line when they want to extend it to all the rest of us. Some traumas take a looong, time to heal. It took me 22 years to get back on the floor of a drilling rig after a pretty horrible accident. I’ve also worked in the past with rape victims and their families. Some people heal faster than others, but no one can be pushed into it.

    4. avatar Jim R says:

      Tread carefully. Remember you can’t push toward yourself. If it looks like they’re not going to respond well, drop it.

  7. avatar crzapy says:

    Not getting bogged down in the terms is a big thing for me. I am a gun guy, I am a technical guy, I can argue ballistics based on bullet weight and exactly what the NFA process is for getting a suppressor because I have done it. However, when shooting with a newbie I think back to the first time I went out on a sailboat with a friend. He was beating nautical terms into me, and I just kept thinking wow this is annoying, when can we come about and go back to land. Don’t be that guy. Oh, and always bring a 22. Especially if they said they wanted to shoot a magnum, Desert Eagle, S&W 500, .45, or .380 pocket pistol, that way they can work up to the thing they think they want to shoot.

  8. avatar Blue says:

    So asking them if they have been supporting Bolshevik politicians isn’t the way to break the ice.

    ***Sarcasm Warning***

  9. avatar 505markf says:

    Good coaching, RF. I’m embarrassed to admit that I belong to quite a large gun club/range that is basically free for me to use at any time and only a 20 min drive away. It isn’t fancy, but it is huge. I need to check in with some newer neighbors to see if they want to go blow stuff up.

  10. avatar MrVigs says:

    Don’t forget that a lot of Fudds need to be invited to the range too. My brother-in-law was telling me that he was gonna make sure his kids got a shot gun (for birds) and then a hunting rifle (for deer) eventually but probably a .22 to start them on. I asked if he’d be interested in some “AR time” at the range and he said sure. After we were done with the AR, 9mm and .380 he was like a kid with his excitement. He never thought shooting handguns (which he doesn’t own) and the AR would be so much fun. He wanted to pay for the ammo we went thru but I wouldn’t have it. He then says next time he’s buying. He is now firmly on our side.

    1. avatar 505markf says:

      Well done!

  11. avatar gs650g says:

    This article is exactly how I converted anti gunners. Including 2 Brits brainwashed by 30 years of re education camps. 20 minutes into it and they were hooked.

  12. avatar Jonathan -- Houston says:

    You definitely don’t ever want to deliver impromptu dissertations to captive audiences. That bores people, turns them off and can turn you into a zealot, in their eyes. That said, sometimes newbies do find it fun to learn a little of the jargon or a couple of tidbits, judiciously dispensed. Some of the best are when you can point out some jack wagon on t.v. or in a movie doing something wrong and can be made fun of. It’s like letting them in on an inside joke. Who doesn’t want to be on the inside? Like when Bruce Willis unloaded on the D.C. Airport top cop in “Die Hard 2” about the threat posed by the German, x-ray evading, metal detector undetectable, porcelain pistol Glock 7. That’s classic. There are a million others; some of them mentioned on TTAG from time to time. Remember, though, brevity is the soul not only of wit, but of mockery, too. So don’t over do it.

    Once a newbie is let in on the super secret, oh so exclusive world of firearms, they sometimes start to develop this heightened awareness and curiosity about firearms and their depiction in pop culture. “That gun fight scene went on for like five minutes. Do handguns really hold a 100+ bullets in their clip like that so no one ever has to reload in a fight?”, one might ask of you. You get a question like that out of a newbie, you know you’re making progress. Once they’re questioning how realistically gangster guns are portrayed in movies, the next stop on the tour is how accurately personal self-defense firearms are being characterized in real life.

    It isn’t always about pounding people with facts and stats. Sometimes, it’s more effective to suggest doubt, rather than compel belief.

  13. avatar bobmcd says:

    “Hoplocurious” is my new favorite word!

    1. avatar Jay1987 says:

      Just don’t take hoplocuriousity too far lead exposure nasty burns and horribly disfiguring pinches cuts and bruises may result.

  14. avatar Aaron says:

    Actually handed my liberal as hell, anti gun xmotherinlaw a12g this weekend… May or May not have helped.
    Do have video though.

    1. avatar 505markf says:

      When dating my eventual wife, used to take her out shooting with my buddies. She never really liked handguns or rifles, but she’d shoot my father’s old Remington 16 gauge semi-auto from the hip until the boxes were empty. She really liked shooting that shotgun. She never became a gun gal, but she does support my obsession, so I’m satisfied.

  15. avatar Kyle says:

    Whenever someone shows extreme ignorance on any subject, but especially hot-button topics like gun control, you have to be very nuanced in how you go about explaining to them how they are wrong. Never make them feel like a moron or anything like that. This involves making sure your facial expression, voice, etc…your whole demeanor, does not come across as condescending at all, but rather just as a friendly conversation in which you are explaining to them why you see their view as wrong. This is in particular important if you are in a group setting.

    One strategy I try is, if having to explain something in a lot of detail, explain in a jovial manner, like you are just a really passionate enthusiast on the subject. Do not explain in a parent-to-child lecturing manner, where you come across as condescending. Also, as said, don’t go into huge dissertations if you can avoid them.

  16. avatar C says:

    The word ‘skill’ in the headline photo has ‘kill’ right in it. I feel threatened. How is this not a zero tolerance policy violation?!

  17. avatar Matthew says:

    Excellent article. I’ll be saving this for future refrence

  18. avatar ErrantVenture11 says:

    I know a rabid anti-gunner who has actually expressed interest in trying shooting one day. And your comment “Remember logic didn’t get them into their position; it won’t get them out either,” hits the nail on the head. I’ve countered every argument she has with sound logical reasoning and extensive historical fact and legal precedent, and it has done very little to change her mind.

    Unfortunately she lives 600 miles away, and I haven’t even taken my wife shooting yet, so I’ll be damned (by my wife) if I go on a shooting date with another woman before I get my wife to the range with me. Forgetting for a moment that this woman is about 30 years my senior and the mother of some friends of mine, it is the principle of the thing: Before I help someone I’m not close to tool up, I should get my wife tooled up first. You know, because she’s my wife.

  19. avatar Silver says:

    I commend your patience. I simply couldn’t do it. After a few years of not only listening to these idiots, but seeing what their idiocy is doing to the country, my patience is very thin.

  20. avatar Paul J Howe says:

    I don’t get your remark about Catholics or why you find it necessary in a discussion about gun control.

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