By Matthew S.
It is an unfortunate sign of the times that universities are no longer considered forums of free speech and exchange of ideas. With conservative commencement speakers being cancelled and faculties wailing at the thought of student carry, it would seem that an American college campus would be a good candidate for the least hospitable place for the People of the Gun. Enter my roommate and me…
We spent the last year in a cramped 10’ x 16’ room in a fraternity house that is not technically associated with a certain Big Ten university in Madison. Our room boasted all the hallmarks of college students – lofted beds, futon, beer cans, liquor bottles, video games, and even the occasional textbook. The Gadsden flag next to my desk is (surprisingly) not the only one I’ve seen on campus, but the real distinguishing feature about our room is the ten different firearms secured in two separate gun safes.
Even to the uninitiated, our room bears clues to the contents of the black, featureless safes tucked away in the closet. Shell casings are displayed above our desks, reminders of unusual calibers or good days at the range. His best 300-yard SKS paper target is taped to the wall next to my 8 1/2 “ x 11” printout of a Joffrey Baratheon target sporting a single .30 caliber hole in his forehead. If one were to walk in on the right Sunday afternoon, one would have been assaulted by the smell of Hoppe’s No. 9 and a cold draft as we tried to balance the Wisconsin winter chill and venting solvent fumes.
The first reaction that most of my fellow students had is eminently predictable – “Why do you need so many guns?” Every time someone asked that question, I had to contain a smile. It’s almost impossible to engage left-leaning college students in a truly meaningful dialogue about guns, as their only idea of a “meaningful dialogue” is the same anti-gun propaganda that the big names have been pushing for years. But when those same students bring the issue to the table of their own volition, the conversation is just that – a conversation. They ask a question and I answer.
“I don’t need all of them. I just like having them. Wanna see ‘em?” An immediate appeal to natural human curiosity. Even the most anti-gun visitors cannot resist a peek behind the black metal doors, and so the tour starts. I take out my key ring, clipped to a lanyard that’s attached to my belt loop. I open the handgun safe on my shelf and take out the large, medieval-looking key for the long-gun safe. The mechanism makes a loud, metallic thunk as the locking rods withdraw, and I reveal the first firearm that many of them have ever seen in reality.
“This one’s a Mosin-Nagant M44, built by the Soviets in World War Two. You can even see the hammer and sickle on the proof mark, right here on the receiver. And there’s the year of production – 1944.”
The curiosity takes over completely. “So this one fought in World War Two?”
“Maybe. Either way, it’s a cool piece of history.”
“Does it still, uh… shoot?”
“Absolutely. Kicks like a mule, too.”
I always start them with the M44. At the risk of stereotyping a rather vocal group, I’ve found college liberals to be a sucker for history. But some of them are better classified as yuppies-in-training, more interested in technology than history. Everyone who dismisses the Mosin is intrigued by the modern composite aesthetics of the AR-15 and absolutely amazed by the EOTech holo sight on top. By this time, any prior anti-gun bias is reduced to a tiny voice in the back of their head as they ask question after question.
The questions that are inevitably asked are the point of the exercise. I can educate these otherwise brainwashed individuals on the world of firearms and the laws that govern them without coming off as preachy or unapproachable. Usually, their ignorance is more a product of Hollywood than Washington. They’re almost always surprised to learn that none of my guns are “registered,” but I’m able to teach them that a general firearm registry doesn’t exist. When I express my desire to buy a threaded barrel and suppressor for my FNX-45, these educated people are equally surprised to learn that silencers are legal, too.
By the time my guests leave, they’ve been given an entirely different perspective on firearms. I certainly haven’t converted all of them to proud Second Amendment supporters, but the civil discourse about these misunderstood tools has changed the way they look at guns and gun owners. Two perfectly normal college kids can own what the mainstream media would undoubtedly label an “arsenal” and not be psychotic killers or Duck Dynasty-lookalike hillbillies.
Some of them have never seen a gun anywhere but on the screen and certainly haven’t spent any time learning about gun laws. A twenty-minute tour of my small college room taught them more about guns, gun laws, and gun owners than a lifetime of reading HuffPo could.
While most of the gun community does not have the ready access to college liberals that I (dubiously) enjoy, I think that there are still lessons to be learned from this approach. Open carry demonstrations and in-your-face protests, more often than not, just give Shannon Watts and Michael Bloomberg fodder for slanted press releases once an institution “requests that guns be left at home.” The best way to make our point is to take a seat, offer them a beer, and show them a world they’ve never seen.