When I was in grade school, the worst thing someone could call you was “fag.” And boy did they ever. “You’re such a fag Farago. Hey Fag-rago.” The fact that I went to an all-boys school had a little something to do with it – but not as much as you’d think. In 1960’s America, even in “liberal” Northeast, homosexuals were regarded with contempt, disgust and discrimination. My mother would have none of it . . .
She was heavily involved in the Rhode Island arts community. She treated her gay friends and contacts with respect. Welcomed them into our home. My brothers and I accepted our parents’ homosexual friends as interesting and creative people. It was their intellect that mattered, not their sexual behavior or romantic habits. And yet . . .
I used the word “fag” as a slur against classmates, sometimes in jest, sometimes against effeminate classmates. I lived two realities: private respect for anyone regardless of their sexual orientation or skin color; and childish, peer-driven prejudice.
The two worlds collided in Key West. For the first time, I saw two men holding hands walking down the street. At that moment,, my view of gay rights changed. I saw homosexuals being homosexual. In public. Without fear or flamboyance. They were simply together. Nothing more, nothing less. They were . . . people. And at that moment, for the first time, I accepted them as such.
Later, I saw two gay men kissing. That was more difficult to assimilate. But not impossible. They weren’t making out – a behavior that I would have found uncomfortable if it had been a heterosexual couple going for it in public. They were kissing each other affectionately. Like I kissed my girlfriend. It was reassurance. Love.
Nothing else could have made gay rights real to me. I had to see it to understand it. And by understand I mean fully accept. And from that vacation onwards, I have never felt that gays are different from myself, at least not in ways that are important. It;’s the same transition anti-gunners can make when they see someone open carrying.
Their initial reaction is likely to be shock. Fear. Contempt. Disgust. As the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has shown time and time again with their loathsome anti-gun owner posts, many gun control advocates see gun owners as “the other.” The enemy within. It’s a deeply discriminatory, extremely dangerous perception. One that gives them moral certainty when they support laws that infringe upon Americans’ natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.
Anti-gun rights Americans can hold this prejudice because they know nothing of responsible gun owners. In the main, they live their lives in isolation from firearms and those who possess them. Even in pro-gun rights states, the only guns they “see” appear in sanitized entertainment or on the news, which invariably involve horrific acts of “gun violence.” Even then, they encounter the aftermath of that violence, not the gun itself.
When many (but certainly not all) gun control supporters see “normal” Americans going about their normal business openly carrying a firearm – shopping, eating, schmoozing, walking down the street – their opinion will change. It’s exposure therapy. wikipedia.org:
Exposure therapy is a technique in behavior therapy used to treat anxiety disorders. It involves the exposure of the patient to the feared object or context without any danger, in order to overcome their anxiety. Procedurally it is similar to the fear extinction paradigm in rodent work. Numerous studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in the treatment of anxiety disorders such as PTSD and specific phobias.
As a former hypnotist I can tell you that exposure therapy doesn’t always work. Sometimes you’ve got to go deeper into a patient’s subconscious to reprogram their stimulus -> response pattern to the phobic trigger (so to speak). The thing to keep in mind: not all gun control advocates are hoplophobes. Many of them have an aversion to guns, rather than adrenalin-inducing fear. They are not beyond help.
And help is what you give them when you open carry a firearm. By open carrying you’re helping them to rethink their views on guns and, more importantly, gun owners. At first, you are “the other.” But eventually you’re not. Eventually, you become part of the landscape. Eventually, people who rejected gun rights come to accept your decision to protect innocent life by force of arms. This doesn’t mean that they will join the pro-gun rights side or, God forbid, carry a gun. But tolerance and respect open the door to reasonable discussion.
Speaking of respect, I understand all the reasons not to open carry, from strategic concerns (the “shoot me first” conundrum) to not wanting to antagonize or scare fellow citizens. Anyone who can’t respect a gun owner’s decision to carry concealed doesn’t grasp the value of personal choice that underpins all our rights. But I implore those of you who value your gun rights to open carry (where legal) as a political statement that does more to protect your right to keep and bear arms than any other decision, save, perhaps, your actions in a voting booth.
There’s a group of gay gun owners called Pink Pistols. They claim to be “the world’s largest GLBT self-defense organization” but they’re not particularly well-organized. Pink Pistols is a welcome intersection of gun rights and gay rights. We have a lot to learn from the gay rights movement, in terms of tolerance and political strategy. I wonder if Pink Pistols’ members would be more likely to open carry than straight gun owners. I like to think so.