It really irks me every time I read Shannon Watts Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’s leader describe members of Open Carry Texas as rapists. It makes me just as sick to hear threats of sexual violence against Ms. Watts. Though I do not believe that Shannon Watts is all that trustworthy, I don’t doubt for a second she has received threats to her life. I’ve read some horrible things on the Internet from real people, claiming to be responsible gun owners, advocating violence and sexual assault on others. Just as much as it is not okay for Ms. Watts to label gun owners as Taliban and rapists, it is not okay to threaten violence against anti-gunners either.
Both sides of the debate frequently call the other side stupid and ignorant. I prefer using the term uneducated instead. However, gun owners have felt the brunt of stigmatization for a long time. Lately, I have read anti-gunners describe gun owners as inadequate, lunatics, domestic terrorists, crazy, insane, freak shows, creepy and childish… do I need to go on?
Frequently, people subconsciously stereotype others. It is a way we create social organization. Generally, we categorize people into two different groups—either in or out. “Out groups” are people we perceive to be nothing like ourself. “In groups,” are people we perceive to behave, think and have similar interests. These in and out groups create an “us” versus “them” mentality, which may lead to discrimination, unfair treatment and even persecution.
People form stereotypes from previous experiences learned from a young age, and the media perpetuates it. Krystle Lagein, in a simple lesson plan on stereotyping writes, “We stereotype people when we are unable or unwilling to obtain all of the information we need to make a fair judgment about people or situations.” Radical, extremists, uneducated, reactionary, fat, Southern, violent, white, male—all of these are active stereotypes of gun owners today.
The best way to end stereotypes is to challenge them. In July 2013, the United States population was just over 316 million people. Slightly over 14 million of those people live in the South. There is an estimated 270 million gun owners in the United States—that’s more than two-thirds of the population! Even if every single Southerner owned a gun, there are still 256 million non-Southern gun owners in the United States. There! That is one stereotype busted. So what, as a gun community, can we do about it? We can set a good example.
In 2004, DEA agent Lee Paige—while demonstrating firearm “safety” in a Florida classroom—shot himself in the leg because of a negligent discharge. Paige had another person check the gun’s chamber, but left the magazine inside the mag well. He held the gun up and said, “I’m the only one in this room professional enough, that I know of, to carry a Glock 40.” While pointing the gun’s muzzle up, he chambered a round by disengaging the gun’s slide lock. With complete disregard for the four golden rules of firearms safety, he brought the gun back down and shot himself in the leg.
Anytime you are shooting, cleaning or demonstrating your firearms, always follow the four rules of firearm safety.
- Treat all guns if they are always loaded.
- Never point the gun at something you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
- Be sure of your target and what is behind it.
Never demonstrate negligence at the shooting range. Never present a firearm to another person without completely unloading it and showing the person that the chamber is absolutely clear. If you present guns with the utmost of safety, especially to someone new to shooting or who is scared of guns, you will show that firearms do not “accidentally” go off.
Being safe also means following the rules—always abide by your local, state and federal gun laws.
I like to smile at strangers. While waiting in long lines, I like to make a witty comment to the person standing next to me. If you like someone’s shoes, tell them. Sometimes even just the smallest of conversation or simplest comment will make a person’s day. The simple act of smiling stimulates the joy responders in our brain—instantly making us feel better. Smiles are contagious and make others feel happier, too. When someone sees you happy, they tend to want to have the same happiness, in turn, subconsciously categorizing you in their “in” group. If you go around being a curmudgeon at work, while running errands or at the gun range, you will simply reinforce the negative views of gun owners.
A few months ago while mingling at a friend’s wedding, I was telling a group of people a funny story about work. When I told them what I did for a living, one of the people in the group—visiting from Washington D.C.—responded with a jerky statement about right-wing, Redneck Texans and their guns. I smiled at him, disregarded the comment and continued with my story. As we chatted later in the evening, this person realized that clearly I did not meet his expectations of what Southern gun owners look and act like. A few days later, he apologized and we are now friends.
Being friendly is the first step!
The other day, a nice gentleman from one of my Facebook groups privately asked me why I chose to sell my S&W .38 Bodyguard. He explained to me he would like to gift his daughter with a firearm, and inquired as to my suggestion. Though I was busy with work, I took the time to explain to him which firearms I liked and didn’t like and the reasons. He appreciated my help and apologized for bothering me—to which I responded, “You aren’t bothering me! I’m happy to help.”
A few months ago, I taught one of my girlfriends to shoot a gun for the first time. Giving her the safety rules, while paying close attention to not over instruct, we filmed her shooting an AR-15. She was proud of her video and we texted it to her husband. His response? “She should hold that rifle up higher.” Now, I’m not saying she shouldn’t have—her grip was off. However, one thing I repeatedly hear from women learning how to shoot a gun is criticism—which turns a girl off from shooting. When teaching someone how to shoot, give him or her constructive suggestions without criticizing. Instead of saying, “You are doing it wrong,” I tell them and show them what helps me.
For the first time shooter, do not give them a gun with harsh recoil, nor one that will present a large muzzle flash. Give them the gentlest caliber and softest shooting gun you have to begin.
Remember, the point is to show them how fun and safe shooting can be. Getting a laugh by giving a new shooter a gun that is difficult to handle is just plain mean.
Knowledge is power and you should arm yourself with it. Fearful anti-gunners like to prey on your emotions, riddling their arguments with ridiculous assumptions and extremely skewed facts. Learn how firearms operate; know how to explain the difference between a semi-automatic weapon and a real assault rifle. When teaching a new shooter, make sure you know how to explain the parts and mechanics of how your gun works. Be confident in your abilities to teach. To them, you are the authority.
I have had plenty of people try to argue with me about gun control. You must present your side calmly and reasonably. Memorize some gun crime statistics from unbiased sources such as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Guy Smith’s “Gun Facts” is free to download and provides useful facts and statistics you can use when having to defend gun ownership.
Be Slow to Anger
Some anti-gunners think all gun owners are just waiting to kill someone. This could not be further from the truth. All responsible gun owners and carriers I know, pray every day that they will never have to use their gun. That is why it is so important to keep your anger in check. Never give an anti-gun person a reason to think you are irrational or crazy. Raising your voice during an argument or yelling obscenities to a driver who cut you off just gives anti-gunners a good excuse to think you are prone to violence. To some people in your life—be it coworkers, neighbors, friends, or family members you may be the only ambassador to the shooting sports they have. Good manners, a friendly demeanor, empathy and staying calm demonstrates the moral high road that responsible gun owners generally chose to take.
Leah Gold writes, “It seems the solution to what happened in Newton is to work on creating a more loving and compassionate society, not directing anger and hatred toward lawful gun owners who have done nothing wrong.” I know how frustrating and maddening it can be to listen or read some of the anti-gunner’s speech. Sometimes they say stupid things, but calling them names or threatening them is not the answer.
Don’t you think that by setting a good example for all gun owners by being safe, friendly, helpful, informative and slow to anger might just convince at least some of the anti-gunners that gun owners are not bad people? In an article about Shannon Watts on another gun blog, a commenter wrote, “Why are you giving her a voice?” That’s a good question, but we should not be giving name-calling and threatening commenters a voice as well.
I urge you to stand up and be the new voice—one of kindness, knowledge, safety and responsibility.