In my pursuit of undergraduate degrees and now a law degree, I have sat through my fair share of sensitivity lectures, diversity seminars, and presentations on emotional intelligence. Through this process, I have learned how radically different some people’s world views can be. Within the gun owning community, we have developed our own language and concepts which may not connect with those who do not share our experiences. The following are guidelines on how to present these concepts to those in the progressive community, gleaned from my time living amongst them . . .
Those who follow contemporary politics will be familiar with demographic trends and the so called “coalition of the ascendant.” Simplified, the theory is that an influx of young, minority, single, female, and LGBT voters will unite to form an electorally unassailable coalition which will then usher in the liberal utopia. While the long run political implications of these shifts are debatable, that vocal progressivism will be a fixture of contemporary politics is not.
Until gun rights advocates are able to compete on progressive terrain, our efforts will remain a rearguard action. Any meaningful expansion of firearm freedom will require the support of at least some segment of the progressive population.
Constitutional arguments must be a fallback position, not a first line.
Gun owners recently scored two critical victories in the Supreme Court; District of Columbia v. Heller which verified the Second Amendment is an individual right for purposes including self-defense, and McDonald v. Chicago which extended Heller’s ruling nationwide. While such rulings are important steps for firearms rights, alone they are insufficient for those rights to be considered “safe.” It is possible for the Supreme Court to overrule these holdings, though that scenario is improbable until the composition of the court changes. How the Court rules on future firearms cases will likely depend on how effectively we are able to normalize firearms as part of our national culture.
Stressing private firearm ownership as a Constitutional issue is unlikely to influence most progressives. Much like quoting the Bible to an atheist, quoting the Constitution will not persuade an individual who does not accept its validity. There are many of the progressive mindset who view the Constitution as antiquated, racist, inequitable, dysfunctional, or corrupt. Trying to convince them otherwise will likely force both sides into their ideological trenches, inhibiting a meaningful debate on gun laws. There is a time and a place to defend the Constitution, but firearms ownership can be justified on its own merit. Guns can be demonstrated to have independent social utility, and this social utility argument will have a more immediate impact on progressives than a constitutional debate.
Stress Social Utility
Arguing for gun ownership on statistical grounds provides a great opportunity for us to demonstrate to the other side that we are not a rabble of mindless knuckle draggers, and that the math is on our side. However, presentation can be just as important as content. Unless you have the (mis)fortune to engage in this debate at a coffee shop or bar, time will be limited and thus must be used efficiently. To this end, chosen statistics should be simple, provocative, and encourage further exploration. Infographics and meme’s, such as this example and this example, provide an easily digestible medium to convey powerful information.
Positive statistics are readily found with a little research or the regular reading of TTAG. Simple math and comparisons can generate many more. Accepting that there are roughly 300 million private firearms in the U.S. and 30 thousand annual gun deaths, that means our per firearm annual casualty rate hovers at .01%. Assuming the high estimate of 600 annual deaths, long guns are responsible for as many fatalities as that other rampant killer of Americans: falling out of bed in the morning. Adverse statistics can likewise be deconstructed, like that 30 thousand figure, 2/3rds of which are suicides with the remainder including law enforcement killings, justified self-defense, and inter-gang violence.
Concrete examples are the most important. For instance, none of America’s 4 million privately owned AR-15s made the headlines today. Guns are 80x more likely to be used defensively than to take a life. We should make it our objective to ensure such statistics are common knowledge. Intangible examples of firearms benefiting society also carry weight. The private firearms industry provides tremendous economic impact, contributions to conservation, and an opportunity to promote charitable causes.
“Clays for a Cause”- demonstrating sensitivity and breast cancer awareness.
Control the Language
A hallmark of politically active progressivism is an intense discipline on word choice. Language is chosen which presents their view point in a sympathetic or favorable light, and then repeated until it has crowded out all alternative descriptions of the subject. The origin and wide spread adoption of the term “assault weapon” to refer to semi-automatic long guns is a text book example. Preempting such maneuvers will be critical to the wide spread acceptance of firearms culture.
Those previously mentioned Supreme Court cases provide an example of how such techniques may be employed. Returning to Heller and McDonald, the most important linguistic maneuvers will be distinguishing what is “dangerous or unusual” from what is “in common use.” Language from the Court indicates the government may restrict weapons falling into the former category but not the latter. Therefore, the distinction between “dangerous” and “common” will define the boundaries of fire arm freedom in the future.
If gun control advocates have their way, “dangerous” will become synonymous with “lethal.” However, the capacity to repeatedly kill human beings is a defining characteristic of all weapons, and for that matter most motor vehicles and kitchen implements as well. Therefore, we should seize the opportunity to distinguish “dangerous” characteristics from lethality. The only weapon specifically mentioned by the Court as being particularly dangerous is the sawed-off shotgun. By stressing that the (marginally) wider shot dispersion of such a weapon is indiscriminate compared to the accurate fire of a semi-automatic rifle, we can linguistically demonstrate the sawed-off to be more dangerous. Should “dangerous” become synonymous with “indiscriminate,” a broader sphere of firearms will be protected.
“Dangerous and unusual” – the Supreme Court.
Promotion through Demographics
As a right, the 2nd Amendment has two unique characteristics which may be leveraged in its defense; it involves the possession of physical property, and it protects a highly recognizable activity. People may exercise the 1st or the 3rd without ever realizing it, but the 2nd is unmistakable. The right is also non-exclusionary, and inherently more inclusive than most “rights” upon which liberals build their coalition. Unlike marriage equality or abortion, there are no identity limitations on who may exercise the 2nd Amendment. The more people seen safely, legally, and enjoyably using firearms, the more widespread firearms culture will become.
Female shooters are the fastest growing firearm owning demographic. New products are regularly entering the market with female shooters in mind, and female only shooting and self-defense courses are becoming a common sight. Female shooters will have a profound impact on the debate surrounding the AR-15, a platform they particularly enjoy. The weapon’s light weight, low recoil, and adaptability make it a favored platform for shooters of all body types. Partnering with women’s groups to promote this message, and the broader concept of empowered self-defense, can only help our cause.
Female shooters prefer the AR-15’s light weight, low recoil, and ability to adapt to different body types.
Racial minorities present another opportunity for cultural expansion, a fact recognized by the NRA every time it claims to be the nation’s longest standing civil rights organization. The argument is often made that access to firearms has damaged primarily minority urban communities. However, this position is easily countered by stressing that such damage is a function of distribution rather than presence, in the classic “if guns are outlawed than only outlaws will have guns” sense. In most of these areas, onerous regulations prevent the most vulnerable from securing the means to their own protection, while the lawless arm at will. This exact situation led Otis McDonald to take his case for self-defense to the Supreme Court, solidifying the right of self-defense for all citizens in McDonald v. Chicago. Overall, we must avoid firearms becoming a proxy for other issues in broader discussions about race.
Millennials will likely have the most profound impact on the gun control debate. As an age group, this demographic cuts across racial, gender, and socio-economic lines. A pervasive desire to try new things and gain life experience makes this group especially eager to take their first trip to the range. More so than older demographics, millennials are highly integrated with social media. This leads to a desire for self-promotion, through which gun rights may be advanced. Taking a millennial to the range is sure to generate all manner of photos and posts. This positive publicity will be shared amongst that individuals peer group, further normalizing firearms in American culture.
Beyond the author’s creative capacity, this artistic Instagram post was taken by a new shooter on a recent range trip.
TTAG has often discussed the intersection of gamers and Gun Culture 2.0. For many who grew up playing the Call of Duty franchise, an assault rifle is not whatever amalgamation of features Diane Feinstein feels are scary that day, but simply a weapon which is larger than an SMG but smaller than a Sniper Rifle. No distinction is made based on caliber, capacity, or fire rate. This may actually be a more accurate reflection of a long gun’s capabilities than implying a pistol grip or telescoping stock somehow makes a weapon more lethal. By tapping into this basic level of understanding, a more informed debate on firearms legislation may be had.
Ask questions. By asking questions rather than using declarative statements, gun advocates can put their opposition on the defensive without being overtly aggressive. Anti-gun advocates love to stereotype gun owners as combative or hostile, and therefore dangerous. Avoiding this trap will help ensure we do not alienate our audience through presentation when our content is credible.
Seek out the open minded. There are some who will always view guns as the evil scary tools of evil scary men doing evil scary things. Often they are found at the front of a class room or on a ratings desperate cable news network. Anti-gun activists fall into this category, and are unlikely to be convinced, no matter how compelling the evidence. Debate with such persons is an exercise best avoided, and if it cannot be, the objective should be to seem reasonable in comparison.
Argue through logical parallels. The catch phrases favored in contemporary political discourse can easily be coopted to our cause. Broader progressive themes, such as equality, can be incorporated into the gun debate by stressing the equalizing effect a firearm gives a physically disadvantaged individual against a more powerful attacker. “A Woman’s Right to Choose” comes immediately to mind, along with any statements mentioning empowerment. Similarly, Voter ID laws are fiercely opposed by progressives, and the ensuing disenfranchisement parallels directly with firearms. The argument could even be made for a streamlined and enhanced NICS system to be used on Election Day, alleviating the need for physical ID and the fear of voter fraud simultaneously. By demonstrating parallel reasoning behind firearms freedom and progressive causes, progressives will see firearms as more compatible with their world view.
Finally, the best education takes place on the range. Actually learning to shoot is the fastest way to dispel popular myths about firearm capabilities and operation. What we consider to be simple knowledge may not be shared by those whose only previous firearms education came from late night television. Through practical application, new shooters will learn that shotguns need to be aimed. That accurately firing a hand gun is difficult. That adding a few rounds to a magazine does not convert a firearm into a magic murder machine. If you’re fortunate enough to run across a suppressor in the wild, your friends will learn that it does not make for a whisper quiet magic murder machine. Most importantly they will learn that the People of the Gun are responsible, friendly, and always eager to welcome new shooters into our ranks.
The author is currently a law student at a large Midwestern state university. He is eager to graduate and return to the Marine Corps in order to enjoy those weapons the Supreme Court would consider dangerous and unusual. The views expressed in this piece do not reflect any organization with which he is affiliated.