By: Kevin Van Dam
This isn’t working. It’s not you. It’s me. I must be the only one who thinks, despite repelling the barbarian hordes after Newtown like Russell Crowe in Gladiator, we are not gaining (or more importantly, holding) more ground on the battlefield of public opinion. I speak in particular those who would be swayed by emotional arguments against firearms. I think there remains an impediment to informing more people in a more convincing way: our old, tired arguments . . .
We need to change our approach, or at least involve a different one. We need to use what has always been used against us: emotion. We need to turn this cereal box upside down and open it from the bottom to get the prize without having to dig through a forearm’s worth of Cap’n Crunch. Besides, that’s my favorite cereal and I don’t want your Hoppe’s No.9-stained mitts tainting it while I attempt to develop Type II diabetes each morning.
“But why, you filthy blasphemer?” I can hear your visceral cries from here, and there’s no need for name-calling. Fortunately for you, myself and my trusty word processor will lay it out. First, repetition – while repetition has its place in cementing things into people’s minds (think of pretty much any news channel), I believe it only truly sticks when it’s linked to something people can relate with. That’s why the opposition uses suicides, inflated child death statistics and grandiose claims to push group-think (90% of Americans want background checks huh?).
“But those aren’t facts,” you say. They are however presented as facts, and repeated as such ad nauseum; their truth is ultimately rendered inconsequential by an amount of repetition we can never compete with, unless someone hands me the keys to CNN. This is why “facts” are not our most effective argument. Truthiness (thanks Stephen Colbert) is not what wins in reality.
The need for a personal connection is doubly true with those on the fence about guns. The uninitiated have sympathy for someone’s loss from a suicide or mass shooting; they are not swayed by arguments of logic concerning how inanimate objects are used, especially when that object is linked with sadness (a feeling everyone has experienced). The things we reiterate need to have a way to connect emotionally, to make people inject that feeling into their own minds, and invite them to consider things critically.
I think it’s fortunate that some people DON’T think critically or we could easily paint ourselves into a corner. For instance, the oft-repeated meme that a Mini-14 is no more or less deadly than an AR-15, but it isn’t the object of legislation banning “assault weapon features.” I cringe every time this is brought up, just waiting for a Demanding Mom or the Brady Bunch to seize it. “Well if a Mini-14 is as deadly as an AR-15, we need to ban those too.” That argument cuts both ways. Firearms are firearms, and we shouldn’t have to justify each mechanical part they are comprised of. I do not want to get dragged down into regulatory hell because we got suckered into a framework of minutia like bayonet lugs and flash hiders. When we play their game, it never works in our favor.
So how do we make the connection? How do we make it personal? It needs to be, at its core, about personal choice and the freedom to make those choices. Frame guns like the issues a typical anti-gun person would take to the streets for: abortion, gay marriage, marijuana legalization, illegal immigrants. These issues are framed as a personal choice that should be legal or at least not punishable. Getting an abortion, marrying a same-sex partner, smoking weed at a Ben Harper concert, and pursing opportunity in the United States are all choices. I’d also like to point out that all of these choices are not enumerated in the Bill of Rights, which skirts the “Patriot fanatic who uses the Constitution as a weapon” construct. However, it’s easy to connect and normalize the 2nd Amendment to undecided listeners in the same way the above issues have been less stigmatized and thus accepted.
Second, in addition to choice, we need to frame the discussion as one about personal freedom. The NSA spying on citizens phones, secret drone strikes, IRS targeting, Bureau of Land Management aggression in Nevada (and the important side-effect of showing the American people how militarized government agencies are), the FCC trying to inject control over the internet (net neutrality), and even the FDA going to court over raw milk (coming back to the choice of what we put into our own bodies) – all of these things compound on each other and give context to what we’ve really been fighting for all along: we want to be left alone by the government to enjoy the freedoms we naturally possess as human beings – the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. I personally think the Founders codified them because they had dealt with intransigent abusers of power, and knew these days may come.
So why frame the discussion this way at all? There’s a feeling that I feel (that’s what you do with feelings, right?) is experiencing a resurgence in the United States; that is a resistance to government intrusion, regulation, and lack of transparency. There was massive support for Rand Paul’s filibuster on drone strikes, public opinion against the BLM, and there is pushback against the FCC injecting itself into internet regulation. In short, people are starting to realize that they want less government in their lives for all of the instances listed above and certainly many more (Obamacare anyone?). At the root of all this is personal, individual choices and the freedom to make them (and not the amorphous ‘Murica/Corvette doing burnouts/Reagan-shooting-commies-on-a-velociraptor kind of freedom).
In short, we need to think critically about how to approach people with ideas that influence their decision making, seize the initiative of the burgeoning realization that government may not be the answer to problems, and shift the burden of proof back to where it belongs: on those who would seek to limit freedom, not those enjoying it responsibly…like a cold, delicious Coors Light.