While the political environment doesn’t currently look very favorable for the future of gun ownership, I’ve encountered a number of reasons for hope in the last few weeks. My phone has been buzzing it’s little heart out with a steady stream of communication from people interested in getting their first firearm, getting some instruction in the use of the firearm, and even…gasp…carrying the firearm. These are not zombie apocalypse doomsday prepper types, just ordinary middle class folks who have apparently been kicking the idea of getting a gun around for a while and have decided that now is the time to act on the idea.
Some of these people grew up with guns around but never really took an interest. Some of them grew up in an environment where guns were forbidden instruments of evil, but have looked at the world and decided that having one around as a guard against the unpleasant but inevitable aspects of human nature isn’t a bad idea after all. It’s really quite fascinating to me to see the combination of background and life experiences that these folks are bringing to the table when they’re asking me about getting a gun. For some it’s clearly a mixed bag as they struggle with the very idea of what the gun represents in their life and conception of the world, and yet they push forward. It’s a truly humbling experience to have folks in this state reach out to you and ask for answers. Some might see it as a sort of vindication or an ego boost, but personally all I felt was a sense of enormous responsibility. These people are making themselves vulnerable and trusting me to help guide them as they navigate issues they probably never thought they’d deal with.
To these people, I’m now your ambassador. To them, I’m the gunniverse. Whether you want me to be or not, I’m now the guy who is going to define what gun ownership is about…what you are about…to these folks. I remember my grandfather telling his church one time “You’re the only Bible some people will ever read.” as an exhortation for his parishioners to live the principles of the faith that they talked about in public. Grandad was one of those rare men who walked the walk and was always conscious of how he represented his church and his God to everyone he interacted with. By the end of his life an entire town called him “Preacher”. When someone needed comfort or care, everybody called “Preacher” whether they went to his church or not…because everybody knew “Preacher” would find a way to meet the need.
Those of us who care about protecting our second amendment rights could learn a lot from Grandad. While we should never be utterly ruled by the perceptions of others, neither should we allow ourselves to become so conceited that we think the rest of humanity just has to deal with whatever we want to dish out. Yes, the second amendment is a guarantee against tyrants whether they happen to be wearing a government uniform or Crip walking. That doesn’t mean, however, that when we’re in the public sphere where there are a lot of uniformed or undecided folks that we should spend our time talking about civil war or how we’re this close to shooting somebody in the face.
If I had spent all my time in the view of these folks running around foaming at the mouth, I don’t doubt that some dudes on the internet would have cheered me as a good patriot…just as there are people in churches who think that guys who stand on the street corner and yell that passers-by are going straight to hell are spreading “the good news”. In my experience, however, this doesn’t produce converts. Often what I see are people who are basically social lepers that find one another and then congratulate themselves on being awesome, taking at times great pleasure in looking like a complete loon to everybody else.
I can’t count the times where I’ve been accused of “rolling over” or some similar nonsense by people on the internet who think that the path to success is to inflict oneself on the rest of society. I assume that they’re getting the idea that since the yahoos who spend all their time screaming slogans through megaphones have had some level of success that it’s the model for how you achieve your goals.
…but the folks I opened talking about? They wouldn’t have called me if I followed that model. Instead, I chose to be reasonable. This doesn’t mean I compromised what I believe in or that I indicated any willingness to bow to anyone else’s agenda. I simply firmly, but politely, corrected incorrect information and generally went about living my life in the best way I know how. Folks understood pretty early on that I didn’t come to my beliefs lightly, that I’d done the research to back up my positions, and that I’d taken great pains to be as responsible as humanly possible in my effort to defend myself and my loved ones. The dividend of that path is respect and trust. When the President of the United States is on TV talking about the need to ban guns, these people decided that what they needed to do was buy a gun, and that I could help them learn to use it responsibly.
The anti-gunners love to caricature gun owners as a bunch of disaffected losers who “cling” to guns because they can’t hack it at life. When you see the NRA mentioned in popular media the implication is typically Angry White Guy with insecurities about his sexual adequacy. It’s utter nonsense…but caricature has power. Caricature is all many people will ever see, and pretty soon caricature becomes definition. You can’t challenge that process by becoming a dead-ringer for the propaganda used by the other side to marginalize you. Cooperating in the labeling process by becoming the label that the evil ones are trying to slap on your forehead is counter-productive.
Sure, you may feel good for a moment or two because you vented your frustrations. You’ll certainly have no problem finding other people who will give you a high five for “telling them like it is!” or some such nonsense. Remember, however, that the guys on the street corner calling women who pass by “harlots!” or “fornicators!” can find people who think they’re doing God’s work, too. Have you ever encountered one of those guys and thought “You know, he’s right! I need to stop what I’m doing and be more like this guy!”
…or did you think “What a jackass” and walk away?
Yeah. Thought so.
All I’m asking us to do as a community is apply the same test to our own conduct. We don’t have to compromise on truth or principle to represent it in a reasonable manner. Sure, some people will never view us as reasonable…but they aren’t the target. The target is the people who don’t have the information but may have an open mind. An open mind seems to be rarer in these times than at many others, but they’re out there. You will never have a shot at one if you’re busy grandstanding in front of the increasingly small choir trying to see who can come up with the fieriest sermon.
Grandad didn’t shrink from preaching the whole Gospel as he believed it, but neither did he preach stupid. He didn’t spend his time on street corners screaming at people about their destiny in hell. Instead, he spent his time in hospitals and nursing homes holding the hands of the sick and the dying, or on the phone trying to round up resources for the needy. There’s a ranch for abandoned and unloved children out there that always had resources to provide for the kids because Grandad spent his time and his money making sure they had what they needed. Those kids are adults now, and they remember his name.
Those of us who believe in the second amendment shouldn’t roll over…but neither should we fight stupid. We can win the argument, and indeed have been making fantastic strides in winning the argument for years. We didn’t get shall-issue CCW laws passed by threatening civil war, we got it passed by being reasonable but relentless in our pursuit of what is right. Legislators knew that we showed up for every election and that we have no reservations about tossing uncooperative politicians out of office and replacing them with people who will listen.
We can be a good ambassador in our personal lives and still be feared in the halls of power. Not because we’re a threat to domestic order, but because we’re citizens who will call to account those who attempt to trample our freedom. We won’t be distracted by what’s on TV. We’ll show up in off year elections when the other side is begging unions to bus people in to try and make the vote look close.
Right now people are saying all sorts of ridiculous things because, I suppose, it makes them feel better. Well you know what feels really good?
By being reasonable I’ve managed to bring people into the fold. That’s what we need if we’re going to actually protect our freedom…more people in the fold. Zeal is fine, but it is no substitute for good tactics. Be a proud ambassador of our freedoms, but if you really love them then by gum be a good one.