Monday, November 4, 2013

Gun rights advocacy: You're probably doing it wrong.

The other day I got into a Facebook discussion about gun rights.

A friend had posted an article from a gun rights webpage wherein they praised an armed man for stopping a mass shooting. I pointed out that with at least 250 mass shootings in the US this year alone (defined as an instance of four or more people being shot -not including the shooter themselves) that brings what I've taken to calling the 'Gunman Savior' strategy's success rate up to 0.4%.

I've since read some actual research which suggests that the rate of successful armed intervention may be as high as 1.6% of mass shooting incidents.

This is not the rock upon which to build an argument in support of the idea of gun ownership as a thing of practical value to society.

(By the way, I don't think defense against a tyrannical government is a very good one either. There have been plenty of groups and individuals in recent history that thought they were doing just that, and it worked out poorly for everyone.)

My friend responded to my -admittedly snarky- post with a good deal of defensiveness and personal indignation. When I pointed out that throwing a tantrum was not a good way to convince me he was someone who should have the unfettered and unregulated right to own and bear firearms, he deleted the entire thread.

It may surprise you to know that I am not altogether opposed to a society where private citizens may own and even carry firearms. I used to be, but I was convinced by polite and informed discussion in a FARK comment thread that reasonable adults willing to take on that responsibility should be allowed to do so. (Though we also agreed that increased scrutiny and culpability for said individuals was also reasonable.)

It made so much sense, I wondered why no one had gotten through to me before. And then I read some of the voices that came into the thread later and understood.

Gun rights advocates are their own worst enemy.

I know a number of people who own guns, and they are amongst the most responsible, stable, and trustworthy people I know. One is an instructor who teaches victims of sexual assault and domestic violence how to own and use guns safely.

I have no doubt that reasonably crafted legislation that came out of an informed conversation about second amendment rights and public safety would leave the circumstances of their gun ownership wholly unchanged. They'd still store their guns safely, practice or hunt with them lawfully and safely, and enjoy them and the feeling of security and confidence they have described to me without feeling threatened by other people who don't think owning guns is such a great idea.

But we can't have that conversation with people shouting at each other. Extremists and zealots are the proverbial assholes that ruin it for everybody, and honestly, if gun ownership is put up as an all-or-nothing proposition, I'm much more comfortable with nothing.

I'm not saying there isn't unreasonable extremism amongst gun control advocates -there are idiots everywhere, but the narrative of the gun control argument isn't being dictated by the extremes, and I feel like the gun rights narrative is (with some help from cynical interests who stand to profit.)

For everyone's sake, I hope that the reasonable voices start to speak up, because we could certainly use them. And if you think you are a reasonable voice, here are a few tips on how to speak to a person like me:

1) Acknowledge that guns mean the power to kill.
Don't trot out the bullshit lines about guns being for targets or whatever. If you're not willing to admit that a gun is a tool designed to take life, you're not going to convince me of anything except that you shouldn't have a gun.

2) Acknowledge that it is reasonable to be concerned.
If you accept tip 1, tip 2 is pretty obvious. The power to kill should not be taken lightly, and when someone says that they should have access to that power, it's not unreasonable to want assurances that it will not be misused or abused.

3) People are not stupid for knowing less about firearms than you, and liking them less is not the same thing as knowing less.
In response to the 1994 assault weapons ban, and in 2004 during the discussion of whether to extend the ban or allow it to lapse, many characterized the outlawed modifications as purely cosmetic. This is not the case, and while you may disagree that modifications outlined in the assault weapons ban truly made a weapon more likely to be used against people rather than targets and game, using a such an obvious straw-man does not help your case with moderates like myself.

If you have facts about the operation and capabilities of a gun that you think people like me are ignorant of and you think are pertinent to crafting policy, believe me we'd love to hear your input. But if you want to dismiss arguments that are uncomfortable to you as being the hysteria of people who don't and can't know what guns are really like, don't expect to have your own arguments taken very seriously in return.

4) Understand that in the end, we all want the same thing.
We all want to be safer and more secure. We all want to keep guns out of the hands of those who would use them to do harm. We all want responsible adults to be free to conduct their affairs in a way that affords them dignity, respect, and agency over their actions and circumstances.

People may disagree on how to go about accomplishing these goals, but that disagreement does not define a line between good and bad, or smart and stupid.


Joshua Powell said...

Great article, Llyw. I'm glad to see you're blogging again. I'm looking forward to reading more of your work.

Llyw said...

Thanks Joshua!

I've got some more drafts that I'm working on at the moment, so expect to see more soon.